The Town Hall Meeting with President George Benson and the Executive Team took place on Wednesday, April 3 from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Stern Ballroom. This bi-annual meeting, like others before it, focused on recent accomplishments and future plans at the College.
The meeting highlighted Charleston’s burgeoning presence in the corporate world at a regional scale and the College’s role in the city’s expansion. President Benson described the College’s place in the spotlight, saying “We’re suddenly on the map in a corporate way that we have never, ever, ever been before.”
In thinking about transformation, the College is doing its best to adapt along with the city so that it is not left behind. As other universities develop a larger presence in Charleston, such as Clemson and University of South Carolina, the College is doing its best to remain the premiere choice of students, faculty, and community partners.
“If we’re not careful, [the incoming universities] will end up with many of our donors,” Benson said. “If we lose relevance to the Charleston business community, we lose relevance.”
To prevent the College’s reputation from diminishing, the President has begun speaking to MUSC about a possible merge between the two campuses. Merging with the MUSC campus would greatly enlarge College of Charleston in physical size, student population and access to community resources.
Although the College has considered merging with MUSC in the past, most recently in the 1980s, a quickly changing atmosphere demands review of previous decisions not to merge. “I think it’s time that we look very carefully at our future, and if we decide not to merge, we do it for the right reasons,” Benson said.
The current discussions with MUSC are very preliminary, and any serious consideration of a merger would require student and faculty input. Regardless of whatever happens in the future, Benson wants to keep our ties with MUSC strong. “MUSC is certainly a friend, and we’re going to stay as close to them as we can.”
In addition to considering a merger with MUSC, the College is trying to match its assets to the newly developing corporate presence. By aligning the College’s strengths with the city’s strengths, the College can offer unique programs that will draw in new students.
Some of the emerging corporate fields include aerospace, digital media technology, biosciences, and healthcare. The College hopes to build stronger ties with companies such as Boeing by bringing in professionals to teach courses in business, technology and science. “Not only can we take care of them, but they can take care of us,” Benson said. This symbiotic relationship will extend beyond a financial relationship to include “people power and ideas.”
George W. Hynd, the College’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, summarized the College’s changing relationship with the city, saying “The College is moving away from an insular academic program that is engaged in the community.”
In addition to building stronger ties with local businesses, the College is building a shop in the front of Sottile Theatre on King Street and a growing presence in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The stores that used to be located in the front of Sottile Theatre have recently closed, giving the College an opportunity to develop that space as a College of Charleston store. “This will not just be t-shirts; it will be a little more upscale,” Benson said. “It will also be a welcome center, a front door to the College.”
In addition to the storefront, the College will renovate the second and third floors into event space and the roof into a rooftop garden. “We are hard at work on this and I think it will give us a nice presence on King Street and a nice event space for us to use,” Benson said. The store is set to open by January of next year, with the event spaces to follow.
Since moving to the Colonial Association earlier this academic year, the College has appreciated its new position and prestige. “These are universities we want to rub shoulders with, we want to learn from,” Benson said. Despite recent controversy over George Mason’s change to the Atlantic 10 Conference, Benson remains confident in the College’s new position. “We think that with the work that’s going on to bring additional universities to the conference, we’re going to end up with one that’s even better, even without George Mason.”