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Instant recap: UW faculty retainment may improve if bill to allow privately funded research passes

UW-Madison could have better faculty recruitment and retention numbers if a new bill allowing researchers to have a more accessible way to get funding from nonprofits and private companies passes.

Image By: Jon Yoon

UW-Madison researchers may have fewer obstacles when seeking funding from private entities and nonprofit organizations.

A bipartisan bill that would allow researchers to obtain funding from private companies and nonprofit organizations more easily has the support of PROFS, the university’s faculty lobbying group, and the Association of Campus Entrepreneurs.

If a private company wants to contract with researchers for more than $250,000, there is a 45-day review by the UW System Board of Regents. The proposed bill would replace the 45-day review with a plan to manage potential conflicts of interest. According to lobbyist Jack O’Meara, the current law is a real impediment and creates delay due to the reviewing process, and can prevent businesses from reaching out to UW researchers.

Thomas Mackie, President of the Association of Campus Entrepreneurs, says this is problematic because a company has to ask for permission, so company have greater reason to look to other universities to do their research.

“Lots of people have start up companies and then do the clinical trials at other locations,” Mackie said. “The Regents can’t make a case-by-case decision; it’s better to keep it inside the university than it is to involve the Regents. It’s always a problem for academic spin off companies. It’s [the review process] not really necessary. It’s more bureaucracy without adding any value.”

Additionally, the bill would change the definition of a “research company” to allow UW campuses to contract with nonprofit organizations and businesses. Current Wisconsin law only includes private entities.

According to O’Meara, some faculty members have left because they were not able to work with nonprofit groups that want to fund research. Other universities that do not have the same research regulations have attempted to recruit UW-Madison faculty, making retention difficult.

In 2016, the University of California-San Francisco and University of California-San Diego bumped UW-Madison from the top five research universities. O’Meara said he believes the bill would keep the research ranking where it is, and create a better environment for researchers, which O’Meara believes UW-Madison can improve upon.

“The institutions that passed us up create more of a positive atmosphere for researchers to think that they can both be doing their research and working to potentially advance an outside business,” O’Meara said. “We don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the two institutions that passed us up both are much better at bringing in private research funding, as well as federal funding.”

According to O’Meara, the bill will help recruit and retain faculty by making it easier for researchers to receive funding from private entities if the bill is passed, a problem that UW-Madison has dealt with. In 2016 UW-Madison received $25 million less in funding from private businesses.

“We do have many faculty who are exploring different ways of funding their research or commercializing the discoveries that they’ve already made and they find the process to be overly burdensome and too slow and frankly they’re told by their colleagues in other states that’s a much more favorable environment,” O’Meara said. “A key point of the bill is retention of the top faculty that we already have.”

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