A news story in last week’s Journal-World told about a world-renowned researcher in the field of bioinformatics leaving Kansas University for a similar position at the University of Michigan.
The story reported the professor was generating $2.5 million in research funds but Michigan offered a $2 million startup offer to conduct his research. Bioinformatics is the application of statistics and computer science to the field of molecular biology.
A KU spokesman said, “The loss of professor Yang Zhang has been a major setback for bioinformatics and molecular biosciences departments.”
The story about professor Zhang was meant to demonstrate how Kansas is losing and still continues to lose, attract and fail to hold world-class scientists due to the tight fiscal restraints faced by Kansas universities. Apparently representatives from the state’s Regents schools had considered trying to make their case for increased funding by trying to gather figures from member schools on the number of faculty who have left recently for better offers. They then would forward this information to state lawmakers.
However, at a meeting last Wednesday of the Regents Council of Presidents, the project was dropped. KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said “there was not a clear pattern” of faculty losses across all Regents universities. So, the council decided to focus on several specific instances of faculty being lured away.
Apparently the case of KU’s professor Zhang is one such instance.
It seems obvious Dr. Zhang’s move to Michigan is a loss for KU, but this particular situation raises the question of whether there might have been some way for the school to have kept the researcher in his KU laboratory.
For example, couldn’t the KU Endowment Association have found funds to counter the Michigan offer? Did KU officials ask the Endowment Association for assistance? Were there others who could have assisted? Or, were there other reasons professor Zhang decided to accept the Michigan offer?
When KU has lost valuable faculty before there have, at times, been issues other than money that triggered the move. “Money” may be the reason some claim KU has lost an important researcher. But in some cases there are factors more of a professional nature or questions about the level of support they received from the administration.
It would seem, however, if indeed money was the principal reason for professor Zhang’s move, why wasn’t the KU Endowment Association able to solve the problem? Did anyone ask, or did association officials say “no”?