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Scripps Faculty Call For Ouster Of CEO Michael Marletta

Proposed merger with USC angers researchers

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
July 9, 2014

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

United in dissent, faculty at biological research powerhouse Scripps Research Institute are reportedly calling for the resignation of the organization’s president and CEO, chemist Michael Marletta.

At issue is a June 16 announcement that Scripps is considering merging with or being acquired by the comparatively wealthy University of Southern California, in order to stabilize Scripps’ increasingly shaky financial outlook.

Scripps faculty have vehemently opposed this option. In a June 20 e-mail sent to Marletta and Scripps’ trustees board chair Richard A. Gephardt, 10 faculty department chairs and the dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies expressed “deepening concern for the future of our beloved institution.”

In the e-mail, faculty members say they are confident Scripps can and should remain independent. “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 group writes.

Marletta took over leadership of Scripps from longtime president and CEO Richard Lerner in January 2012. He is also a member of C&EN’s advisory board. Marletta served as chair of the chemistry department at the University of California, Berkeley, before moving to Scripps.

Scripps, a private research organization with campuses in San Diego and Jupiter, Fla., had a $398 million operating budget in 2012. 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.

“The funding climate has never been more challenging for biomedical research institutes, universities, and medical schools,” Marletta tells C&EN.

A chemistry faculty member, who agreed to speak to C&EN anonymously, says that faculty in all departments at Scripps, including chemistry, formally gave a near unanimous vote of no confidence in Marletta.

The source sides with those calling for Marletta’s resignation, saying Marletta’s vision of the future of Scripps and those of the faculty “no longer align.”

Marletta adds that further discussions to address the conflict are imminent. “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,” he says.



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