Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Academic Dispute

Two academic institutions in California have gone to court over a research grant worth $55,000,000.  This case is of note for two reasons.  First, universities have traditionally had an unspoken agreement that research funds follow the principal investigator if that individual leaves university A for university B.  In this case, university A objected strongly citing that grants are made to institutions; not principal investigators no matter how key a role that person plays.  This is particularly true of grants made by the National Institutes of Health as in this case.  Second, the funds in question are involved in the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study.

The case is an interesting one and is going to have an impact on many research projects going forward when the principal investigator is being courted away from the institution employing them at the time the grant is awarded.  Depending upon the situation, a scientist may be willing to abandon the funds and the project which helped them secure the new job offer in the first place.  Additionally, it may make it more difficult for institutions to hire their way into established research projects.

What will this do to the science?  In this case, university B has to return all funding, equipment and data.  University A has to confirm that everything has been returned intact.  The problem?  The people best equipped to do this may no longer be associated with the project, having just been poached away.

Hopefully, it is not that dire and staff remain who can continue the work.  However, the work has been interrupted, the staff shaken up and political impacts remain.  It will be interesting to see what will happen with the study and if this case detrimentally impacts it.

I welcome any feedback from our friends in academia who can comment on this situation.

Additional Information:

Grant Dispute Throws an Unwritten Rule of Academic Poaching Out the Window - The Chronicle of Higher Education
UC San Diego wins legal battle in dispute with USC over Alzheimer's project - Los Angeles Times

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