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Scripps In An Uproar

Funding: Merger talks with USC canceled, but faculty hold to no‑confidence vote for CEO Marletta

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
July 11, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 28

Credit: David Freeman/Scripps Research Institute
Michael Marletta
Credit: David Freeman/Scripps Research Institute

A proposed merger of Scripps Research Institute and the University of Southern California has been shelved in the wake of a revolt from Scripps faculty members who have called for the resignation of the institute’s CEO, chemist Michael A. Marletta.

“The current nonbinding letter of intent on discussions about a broad partnership with the University of Southern California has been terminated by mutual consent of both parties,” Marletta and Scripps Board of Trustees Chair Richard A. Gephardt said in a statement released late last week.

Scripps announced on June 13 that it was considering an alliance with the comparatively wealthy USC in order to stabilize Scripps’s increasingly shaky financial outlook.

However, in a June 20 e-mail sent to Marletta and Gephardt, 10 Scripps faculty department chairs and the dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies wrote, “We believe that the proposed path with USC would destroy much of what has been built and what we and others in the community value so much.”

The protest heated up last week, when, according to a chemistry faculty member who agreed to speak to C&EN on the condition of anonymity, Scripps faculty sent another e-mail to Gephardt demanding Marletta’s resignation. The source says that faculty in all departments at Scripps, including chemistry, gave a near‑unanimous vote of no confidence in Marletta.

Elizabeth Garrett, USC’s provost, issued a statement on July 9 confirming the decision to terminate merger talks, and saying that “USC faculty often collaborate with [Scripps] researchers, and we look forward to future opportunities to work together.”

Despite cancellation of the merger talks, Scripps faculty are holding tight to their vote of no confidence in Marletta, C&EN’s source says. Marletta’s vision of the future of Scripps and those of the faculty “no longer align,” the source adds.

Marletta, who is a member of C&EN’s advisory board, took over leadership of Scripps in January 2012. He replaced longtime president and CEO Richard Lerner.

Scripps, founded in 1924 by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, is today a private research organization with campuses in San Diego and Jupiter, Fla. In 2012, the institute had a $398 million operating budget. It relies mostly on grants and, to a lesser extent, philanthropic donations, for its funding. In 2013, 85% of its revenue came from the National Institutes of Health, according to credit rating agency Fitch Ratings.

But in recent years, competition for NIH funding has increased as the federal agency’s budget has stagnated. Meanwhile, Scripps is projecting a $21 million deficit for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

When asked about the faculty uproar, Marletta provided a prepared statement: “The funding climate has never been more challenging for biomedical research institutes, universities, and medical schools. As we move forward, representatives from the faculty, administration, and board are coming together to thoughtfully review a range of options for the institute’s future.”



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