By Senator Marlon Kimpson
As a newly elected state senator, I want to weigh in on the discussion about the merger between the College of Charleston and MUSC, as a significant portion of both schools are located in District 42. First let me make clear, I have not made a decision on the proposed merger or whether it will be in best interest of either institution or the state of South Carolina. As a lawmaker, I have the obligation to carefully evaluate the merits of arguments before voting on legislation, and some questions remain unanswered.
The first question that comes to my mind is how much combining the institutions will cost the state. I recently reviewed an August 31, 2013, white paper by a committee of faculty, staff and administrators from both schools entitled “Exploring a New Relationship Between the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.” While most people who argue for Charleston University cite the costs savings as a benefit in general, this committee determined that there would be “few costs savings from creating efficiencies of scale or eliminating duplication of effort” because the two schools have totally different missions and operate in different ways. The committee also noted that cost was one of the reasons that the University of Maryland-Baltimore/University of Maryland-College Park chose not to merge. Instead, those two schools entered into a formal collaborative agreement to avoid some of the costs of a merger, estimated to be as high $250 million. As another example, the committee noted that the Rutgers/University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey merger last year cost about $75 million. I’ve only been at the Statehouse for two months, but I have been there long enough to know that the general fund faces enormous challenges from its existing commitments without additional revenue sources. I have serious reservations about whether we can afford the transaction costs associated with the merger, let alone make the required financial commitment to establish and operate a third major university in the state.
Another area that must be fully explored is the impact of a merger on the quality of life on the peninsula. If the purpose of the merger is to create a world-class research university, then certainly additional academic programs would need to be added. For example, some say that an engineering program is necessary to the success of the merged school and to support the business community. As neither school has an engineering program, its addition will require new physical space to house it and its students and faculty. Unlike the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, which are both located in areas that can easily accommodate expansion, Charleston is a land-locked peninsula with a unique culture that in some ways is already challenged by space limitations. Creating a research institution downtown would definitely change the Charleston we know today. How would downtown accommodate such expansion?
Last but not least, I will be interested in knowing what the proposed merger does to improve life for the people who live and work here. Many surrounding neighborhoods have already experienced gentrification with new hotels, restaurants and retail spaces being added in the recent years. Will the merger hasten this process? And what does the proposed merger do to improve diversity among students, faculty and administration? In this regard, I note the dismal number of African-Americans currently attending the College of Charleston. African-Americans make up about 30% of South Carolina’s population and yet less than 7% of the students at College of Charleston are black. Separately, I am very concerned about the alleged disparate treatment of minority employees at MUSC in terms of pay equity and job advancement. Would new leadership address these challenges? Notwithstanding the merger, I will be focusing on these issues to ensure that public universities in South Carolina make every effort to diversify student population and, equally important, treat people with respect and dignity.
Accordingly, I will be seeking an answer to these questions and listening attentively as these issues are discussed at the State House.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat, represents District 42, Charleston and Dorchester counties.