Monday, August 21, 2017

$185 Million California Rumpus over Researcher Raiding

To some outside the California scientific and academic community, it might seem like a cat fight replete with allegations of  a "law-of-the-jungle mindset," loyalty oaths, "petty academic politics" and -- literally -- paper clip theft.

All of which is mentioned in court filings in the squabble, if you want to call it that. But this is not minor stuff. It involves a $185 million, 2015 lawsuit by the University of California (UC) against the University of Southern California (USC), a private school in Los Angeles. Basically, UC wants the money from USC because UC thinks one of its high-powered scientists was hijacked by USC.

Some of the details emerged today in the Los Angeles Times, which wrote about the case in connection with the Carmen Puliafito affair. He is the former dean of the USC school of medicine as well as being a member of the governing board of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, a position he no longer holds.

The headline on the story said,
"USC dean drug scandal could take costly toll on school's legal battle with UC system"
Puliafito was dean of the medical school when it hired away from UC San Diego a star Alzheimer's disease researcher, Paul Aisen, who had the potential of bringing $340 million in research grants to USC. In addition to the prestige of having Aisen on campus, the school would receive a significant percentage of the grants as part of overhead costs.

The Times reported that during Puliafito's eight years at USC, he spearheaded an effort that lured more than 70 "transformative faculty" from UC schools, Stanford, Harvard and other prestigious rivals.

One was USC's longtime athletic rival, UCLA. According to the Times, the successful wooing of Arthur Toga and Paul Thompson, two well-funded neurology researchers, in 2013 "outraged" UCLA, which complained to federal regulators.

The Times wrote,
"It was not unusual for professors to move to other institutions, often with the first university cooperating in the transfer of grant funding to the new school. But in UC’s view, USC had acted beyond accepted norms by targeting academics based on grant funding and strategizing secretly with those researchers while they were still employed by UC about moving grants to USC. The schools reached a confidential settlement requiring USC to pay UCLA more than $2 million, according to a copy of the agreement obtained through a public records request."
The lawsuit is now in San Diego Superior Court. No trial date has been set. Sphere: Related Content

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