Mayor Riley backs CofC/MUSC merger in Columbia

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The College of Charleston could be called Charleston University one day if Mayor Joe Riley gets his way.

The Mayor of Charleston appeared at a 9 a.m. meeting in Columbia with lawmakers Wednesday to show his support for the Medical University and College of Charleston merger. Mary Graham of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce also attended the meeting to show support.

However, the plan is being met with some opposition.

Riley says Charleston needs a research facility. That's why he brought the argument to Columbia. He's trying to convince lawmakers that merging the College of Charleston and MUSC is the right thing to do.

"This is an opportunity that we cannot, we cannot let pass us," Mayor Riley told members of a House committee.

He said combining two of Charleston's biggest learning and medical institutions is crucial.

"To have a major metropolitan area that doesn't have an essential, to have a most essential by then, educational opportunities is a huge disservice," Riley said.

He argues without a merger, the Charleston region can't retain and attract top talent for future economic growth.

"We're competing for high technology jobs in the state. And we do not have a graduate degree program in physics.Or chemistry. Or computer science or nuclear science in the Lowcountry," said Riley.

Riley told the committee that Charleston is competing with the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina and Austin, Texas, schools for students and attracting a high tech workforce.

Some members of the House committee that's studying the merger proposal are skeptical.

"We can't take what we're doing right and throw out the baby with the bath water just to do something better," said Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Republican from Charleston County.

"Sometimes when you get bigger it does not necessarily mean that its better," said Rep. Kenny Bingham of Lexington.

"I assure that my perspective is not what is good for Charleston and Charleston County, but the entire state," explained Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter of Orangeburg.

Still, Mayor Riley stands by the plan.

"The bigger question if you step back a minute is not why.{} But why not?," asked Mayor Riley.{}

The bill was proposed by Rep. Leon Stavrinakis. Sen. Larry Grooms presented his own version of the Bill in the state Senate.

MUSC's Board of Trustees and College of Charleston's faculty Senate both recently voted unanimously to reject the proposed merger.

Supporters of the bill argue that the merger will lead to more state funding and graduate degree programs.

The next time this committee meets will be with the Commission on Higher Education.