If you can't beat 'em, well, you find another way to beat them.

Earlier this month, anti-Charleston forces in the state Legislature - well, mainly Sen. Harvey Peeler - managed to stop a bill that would have allowed the College of Charleston to offer doctoral programs.

He probably didn't want any competition for his beloved Clemson University, which is basically moving into Charleston.

And why do you think Clemson is doing that?

Well, it could be that university officials want an excuse to come to the beach. Or maybe they understand there is a real need for advanced degree programs in the Lowcountry.

Both are probably true.

State Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Jim Merrill knew the business community was screaming for a more educated workforce when they tried to create the University of Charleston this year.

And they got close.

But now the Commission on Higher Education says C of C doesn't necessarily need legislation to expand its mission - only approval from the commission's board. Incoming College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell says he's going to ask the school's board of trustees if they should apply.

But even before that, some of the state's most powerful lawmakers are on the case. House Speaker Bobby Harrell says he will talk to the Commission on Higher Education to get the ball moving on this before the next legislative session.

"We already ought to be doing this," Harrell says. "I don't think there's any question we need this."

Well, not around here anyway.

Move the playing field

Merrill and Stavrinakis got amazingly close to passing their University of Charleston bill in a short amount of time.

They would have pulled it off, too, if not for those meddling senators.

Although Merrill and Stavrinakis are already planning another run at this, Stavrinakis is happy for Harrell to try to get it done through the commission.

"I'm just trying to get the results," Stavrinakis says. "I met with CHE and they didn't mention that to us, but if this is a viable option, I'm all for it."

Basically, what Harrell and McConnell are talking about is moving the fight out of the political realm and into a bureaucratic one.

Where there are, of course, different politics at play.

All the commission has to do is change the college's status, designating it a research university. They could say no, of course, giving opponents more ammunition. But Stavrinakis doesn't see that happening.

There is clearly a need - which is why you see Clemson, USC and even Francis Marion University planting roots here.

So this should be a slam dunk. If the Commission on Higher Education allows Clemson and USC to offer advanced degrees in Charleston, and denies C of C an opportunity to do the same, it wouldn't be fair.

It would be like telling one business it had to close hours before the guy next door, who is in the same business.

A fair share

Even if Harrell and his colleagues get tangled in bureaucratic red tape, they feel they can at least get University of Charleston legislation passed next year.

Much of the problem they had this year came in personality conflicts and petty politics that they should be able to manage with a little more time. Merrill says another option is to file legislation allowing the school to offer specific doctoral programs, like Coastal Carolina did to gets its Ph.D. program.

"It's going to happen, one way or another," Merrill says.

But if the Commission on Higher Education will do this, it's better to avoid the politics of the Statehouse altogether.

You see, Harrell wasn't off the mark earlier this year when he said that some people have it in for Charleston. Some lawmakers bristle at the power Charleston has had in the Legislature for the past decade (conveniently forgetting how the place used to be run by the Upstate).

They think the Lowcountry hogs state resources.

Well, Charleston is a major population center, and it contributes a lot to the state tax base. It is only right that we get our fair share.

And we need more graduates with high-tech degrees. The business community practically demands it.

The fact that some lawmakers would deny this out of petty sectionalism (or fears it would allow the college to buy the School of Law) says all you need to know about some people's business acumen.

Luckily, local lawmakers are not giving up. It may take another year, but C of C will get its doctoral programs - one way or another.

And if those Upstate guys don't like it, well, keep messing with us and we may just build a new West Ashley bridge with state money while we're at it.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.