On Feb. 20, dozens of students posed questions and concerns to Chief of Staff Brian McGee and members of the Executive Council regarding the proposed merger between MUSC and the College of Charleston. Despite repeated reassurance that no decisions have been made, students spoke with the passion of conviction, expressing apprehension about the bill’s disputed origin, potential funding sources and implications for the College’s unique culture.
“At this point it’s not a matter of ‘Yes we want it’ or ‘No we don’t,’” SGA President Jordan Hensley said. The bill, H. 4632 and Senate version S. 1021, is still undergoing revision, giving students time to suggest changes. “The reason we’re having this forum is so we can take [suggestions] to Columbia and take it to the legislature,” she said.
In the coming weeks, SGA will draft a resolution based on student opinion gathered from survey data that they will present to the S.C. House. In the meantime, Hensley urged individual students to make their voices heard. “I have no doubt that you can make a phone call, speak your mind,” she said.
In order to be taken seriously by legislators, Hensley suggested that students contact their representatives with a rational argument at hand. “What’s going to set us apart [from those making emotional appeals] is that we have the backing, we have the arguments to go along with it.”
Every member of the S.C. Congress will inevitably vote on this bill, so contacting any representative expressing agreement or dissent would guide decisions. However, students registered to vote in South Carolina are specifically urged to contact the representative for their home district, especially in light of reelections this coming November.
Board of Trustees member Jeff Schilz asked students not to rush to conclusions and to consider all aspects of the merger before contacting legislators. “You’ve been done a little bit of a disservice because I don’t think you’ve been given adequate information,” he said. “I don’t think y’all have a broad perspective of why this is an idea worth pursuing.”
According to Schilz, the lack of information combined with one-sided media coverage has portrayed the situation as a “take your medicine and shut up” scenario, creating tension within the student body. “I understand the passion, I understand the angst, and I urge you to channel it,” he said. “Be productive…Think about what you want the College to be [in the long term] and how to get there.”
Although students are not unanimously opposed to increasing the College’s size, nobody at the forum supported a commensurate increase in tuition, raising the question of how the merger would be funded. This information is not adequately outlined in the bill, causing anxiety for students who worry that without legal protection, the costs will be passed on to them.
Voicing personal opinion, SGA Vice President Chris Piedmont said, “The S.C. legislature should be picking up the tab if they’re going to force us to merge. It should not be on the students’ backs and it should not be on the alumni’s backs.”
In addition to their position on funding, students and alumni seem united in their opposition to changing the College’s name to University of Charleston George Street Campus (UCGSC). Speaking from his senior class standing, Piedmont said, “We don’t want to be one of the last graduating classes of College of Charleston…The name is kept in tact; the culture is kept in tact; everything that we love about this institution is kept in tact.”
Despite a general feeling of resistance toward the merger, some say that it is inevitable. However, students should not feel helpless as they have a chance to voice their opinions throughout the legislative process. As SGA Senior Senator Carlie Smith said, “Obviously this is going to happen. It’s just a question of how it is enacted.”