Thursday, July 03, 2014

Scripps' Top Faculty Wants Marletta Removed as President

The turmoil at the highly regarded Scripps Research Institute today intensified as its top faculty called for the removal of its president, Michael Marletta, who is involved in an effort to merge the organization with the University of Southern California (USC).

The demand was reported today in the San Diego U-T by Bradley Fikes and Gary Robbins. They wrote that the faculty leaders “have lost confidence” in Marletta, who assumed his position in January 2102.  

 Scripps is running a $21 million deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Grants for biomedical research are tight and donations to Scripps are not meeting the institute’s long-term needs. Scripps derives more than 86 percent of its funding from the NIH, which is under stringent federal budget constraints.  The negotiations with USC are now in a “deep freeze,”  Fikes and Robbins reported yesterday.

 The faculty made the call for his removal in an email last night to Scripps Board Chairman Richard Gephardt, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives and now a Washington lobbyist.  He told Fikes and Robbins in an email today that the board understands a “variety of perspectives” exist concerning the future of Scripps. The San Diego newspaper did not immediately carry a response from Marletta.

Peter Farrell, another Scripps board member and executive chairman of ResMed, did not welcome the call for Marletta’s removal. He told the San Diego U-T,
 “If you’re on the board, you say, ‘Who’s running this ship, guys? You can make suggestions, but you cannot demand action. In other words, the board’s being told what it’s got to do, and if you don’t do this, we’re going to take our bat and ball and go home.”
Fikes and Robbins wrote,
“Farrell expressed sympathy for the faculty, but said Marletta is working with the best interests of Scripps Research at heart.”
In an online comment on the U-T Web site, Jeanne Loring, director of the Scripps Center for Regenerative Medicine,  said,
"Why would a board member of an organization 'feel sorry' for a group that brings in 86 percent of the funding for that organization? That makes no sense. Is he suggesting that we take our money elsewhere?"
Regarding Loring's comment concerning funding, for those unfamiliar with the way many nonprofit research organizations operate, it is on the same principle as a beauty parlor. In a beauty parlor, a beautician rents a chair and shares his/her income with the owner of the business. If the beautician’s income drops off, he or she is out the door. Likewise, scientists receive space and support at facilities like Scripps. Their obligation is to keep the grant money rolling in the door. The research organization then takes a healthy cut.

Fikes and Robbins wrote that Scripps has been a pillar of “biomedical brain power.”  But they said the scientific achievement has not been matched by fundraising since Marletta was named as president.  They wrote,
“During that time, Salk and Sanford-Burnham (both located near Scripps) have raised great sums of money. In January alone, Sanford-Burnham received an anonymous $275 million donation in January, to be given over 10 years.
“During the last couple of years, the Salk Institute has raised $275 million in a capital campaign, although Salk has far fewer faculty than does Scripps Research.”
Scripps has declined to disclose its fundraising figures, the U-T reported.

So far the Scripps-USC negotiations and turmoil have attracted little attention in the scientific media. However, that is likely to change this month in the wake of the increasing turbulence. 

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