Archive for Thursday, August 17, 2006

University to stand by center, despite grant loss

August 17, 2006


Kansas University will continue to fund the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, though the National Science Foundation is withdrawing its grant money because of the center's inadequate performance.

"We'll continue to support it as we support all scientific endeavors - to the best that we can under the financial restraints that we operate," KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Wednesday.

The center, which develops environmentally benign chemical processes for industry, was supported by a once-record $17 million, five-year grant from NSF. But the federal agency is pulling out, citing underperformance in multiple areas. It will slowly reduce its support for the final two years of the grant and won't stay on for what could have been another five-year term.

Hemenway said work at the center will have to be prioritized, and some people may move from one lab to another or from one idea to another, but that he doesn't anticipate any scientists getting booted because of NSF's decision.

"I can think of a number of Nobel Prize winners who if their heads had rolled after they lost a particular grant, we would have missed out on some Nobel Prize-winning science," he said.

Five other NSF engineering research centers have been in a similar position facing nonrenewal, NSF has said. The agency declined Wednesday to reveal those institutions, saying it was not NSF policy to do so.

Annual NSF-organized site visits to KU's center found lack of collaboration with industry, lack of innovation, a paltry number of publications compared to similar centers, a lack of teamwork among researchers and other problems.

"I think we need to look back and see what we can learn from it," said Brian Laird, a KU chemistry professor who also works in the CEBC program.

Bala Subramaniam, the center's director, and Jim Roberts, vice provost for research, did not return calls Wednesday.

It was unclear late Wednesday how much annual financial support KU gives the center.

According to a 2003 news release announcing the center, KU put up $2 million for new faculty positions and $320,000 for an education program coordinator. It also provided 12,300 square feet of facility space valued at $6 million and gave funds for other areas. The state of Kansas contributed $1 million, the release said. Subramaniam, a distinguished professor who earns $210,000, was the 13th highest paid employee at KU in 2005, according to a list, based on public records, that does not include the medical center.

"We're always evaluating how we make investments," Hemenway said. "We would do the same evaluation for this center as we would for any other center."


classclown 11 years, 10 months ago

Too little, too late. Sad story, old story.

pusscanthropus 11 years, 10 months ago

Hemenway--why don't you just retire early??!!!

KU has declined in the several undergraduate rankings (which of course you say is the ranking agencies' fault), it's not doing a good job as a research institution--besides the CEBC fiaso, you can't hold on to top notch researchers who get stolen away by other institutions(Gunda Georg for instance), and you have prostituted my alma mater to donors who have their own agendas. You don't make me a proud Jayhawk!

moveforward 11 years, 10 months ago

Why no comment from Lou, doesn't Robert report to him?

Rhoen 11 years, 10 months ago

<<<"I can think of a number of Nobel Prize winners who if their heads had rolled after they lost a particular grant, we would have missed out on some Nobel Prize-winning science," [Hemenway] said.>>>

A specific, concrete example would be more credible. This situation does not involve Nobel Prize winners though. It is about the University's increasing tendency to be all "talk" and no "walk."

Why throw more resources into this NSF-abandoned lost cause? Isn't there another item in today's paper relative to the (literally) crumbling buildings and the need to fund repairs of infrastructure?

Perhaps it's time to re-prioritize and work for substance over form, at least where the rhetoric is concerned.

Not particularly proud to be a Jayhawk ... under the current regime.

Godot 11 years, 10 months ago

Hemenway and Ballard will be back before the legislature next winter, trying to shame the reps into funding their failed project. I can hear it now, "if you do not give us the money we need to keep this project going, say $20,000,000 as a start, it will prove to the rest of the world that Kansas is anti-science."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.