Monday, February 24, 2014

Merger Proposed Between College of Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina

A merger has been proposed between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. However, there have been many questions arising about the merger, and these questions have led to a growing chorus of dissent among constituents. Merger proponents have the right idea that the combination of the two institutions could lead to tremendous synergies, though they are going through the process all wrong. This lack of forethought is, at best, making this a very painful process, and at worst, completely scuttling chances for successful approval and implementation.

Merger proponents are correct that this has been done successfully before. They point to recent combinations between Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, as well as The University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio. Academic and research synergies, as have been touted here, were to benefit with these institutions coming together.

The process in Charleston has run afoul in several ways. First, the impetus for the merger is coming from state legislators as opposed to the institutions themselves. Think of this as having something done TO you, as opposed to BY you — always be a difficult pill to swallow. Next, the leadership of the institutions should have come together to reach preliminary agreement on the decision to merge before the topic became a public point of discussion. Outgoing College of Charleston President George Benson strongly supports the merger. MUSC Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Stephenson is strongly opposed to the merger, and led the MUSC Board of Trustees in passing a resolution in opposition. One cannot successfully orchestrate a combination such as a university merger when the key players are not all on board. If we cannot get agreement at the top, how will we be able to achieve agreement at other levels (faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc.)? Academic and financial feasibility studies have not been done. These could have taken place in some way, shape or form prior to the point of public discussion. Lastly, the fact that MUSC is currently in the search for a new president is not a hindrance to the process, rather, it is an opportunity. A central issue with mergers is the question of who will remain president of the combined institution. The presidential opening at MUSC affords the unique chance to search for a preeminent leader to be the first president of the combined institution, without forcing another president out of a job.

At the end of the day, this is a concept that is very worthy of close examination, however, leadership of the institutions and other proponents of the merger got off on the wrong track by not doing their due diligence. Critical to their initial success would have been securing buy-in from key merger players and selling it internally before taking the issue public and opening the plan up to critics. If they were truly studying other recent merger successes, that's what they would have learned. Now they have an open wound festering, which does not appear to be on the way to healing in the near future. A shame, because students, faculty and others associated with these institutions will be missing out on what could be a national academic, research and clinical powerhouse.