Kansas University has lost the services of a truly distinguished faculty member. Gunda Georg, a University Distinguished Professor in the department of medicinal chemistry, is leaving KU to chair the department of medicinal chemistry at the University of Minnesota.
This is a huge loss for KU, huge in several ways. Over the years, Georg has been one of the true stars in the bioscience/pharmacy field at KU, and no university likes to lose a star. She brought millions of dollars to KU in various grants, and in today's university environment, money is the name of the game.
KU made a major effort to keep Georg here. The past several years, she had been told all the things KU would do for her and, yet, nothing seemed enough to keep her here. This wasn't the first time she had flirted with other job offers. Many tried to help keep Georg here, but the collective efforts were not enough to make Georg tell Minnesota officials, "Thanks, but I'm staying at KU."
Lastly, no one likes to get beat, and KU officials, as well as others such as the Kansas Bioscience Authority, were trying to put together a team of pharmacists and chemists who would be a world-class operation and help in the university's effort to build a cancer center at the KU Medical Center that would merit designation as a federal "comprehensive cancer center." Unfortunately, university officials have not settled on a specific plan for how to achieve that goal.
Georg's departure may be a temporary setback in this effort.
Fortunately, KU has other world class pharmaceutical chemists. KU faculty members such as Val Stella, Eli Michaelis, Ron Borchardt, Jeff Aube, Christian Schoeneich, Barbara Timmerman and Kenneth Audus are among the nation's best and in the "up and comers" category. KU remains extremely strong in this field.
As one distinguished faculty member said, "Losing Gunda is a big loss, but it is not as damaging or as serious a loss today as it would have been if it had happened some years ago."
Some at KU say the university had "leaned over backwards" to keep Georg but that Minnesota had "offered her everything." The deciding factors in her departure aren't known, but it's likely a number of things - facilities, pay, recognition and some personal and age issues - played a role. Also, it's believed Deborah Powell, a former KUMC administrator who now is a leader at the University of Minnesota medical school, played a role.
But no matter how KU officials may try to minimize the impact of Georg leaving for Minnesota, this is a tremendous loss. There is likely to be some finger-pointing by many who suggest KU didn't perform in a manner to keep Georg from leaving.
It is hoped her leaving will send a powerful message to KU officials that they need action, not words, if they intend to be a national or world player in various academic fields. They can't be a player on the world stage without world class players.
Georg said taking the Minnesota job was a "difficult decision because I cherish what I have here at KU and what KU has meant to me during my 22-year-old career as a faculty member. I have extremely fond memories of KU and Lawrence. I do hope to continue to collaborate with my KU colleagues and form strategic alliances for joint drug discovery, development and commercialization."
The struggle between KU and Minnesota has been long, with each university offering incentives to hold - or attract - Georg.
KU officials, with the help of others, are trying to recruit several other well-known researchers in the pharmaceutical chemistry field, and it is unknown how Georg's departure will affect this effort.
Regardless, KU must make sure it takes care of faculty members such as Stella, Michaelis, Borchardt and many others who are distinguished in their fields and add so much to the excellence of the university. They, too, have been courted by other schools, often with much more attractive offers than what they are receiving at KU, but their loyalty, their colleagues and their time at Mount Oread have combined to keep them in Lawrence.
Georg should be thanked for all she has done for the university.
But now is the time for KU officials to redouble their efforts to build and even strengthen this critically important area within the university. It doesn't do much good to talk about all the things that were done to try to keep Georg. KU lost this contest, but this area of study and research at KU still is extremely strong.
The department won't have the ongoing distraction of wondering, "What is Gunda going to do?" and now can concentrate on how to build KU's pharmaceutical chemistry program into an even stronger, more nationally recognized center of excellence.