State News

‘Mark Cook Bill’ would streamline university research, professors argue

A bipartisan bill named in honor of a late UW-Madison professor, which would reform the university’s research contract practices, unanimously passed the Assembly this week.

Image By: Sevie Kenyon Courtesy of UW-Madison

With the intention of streamlining approval of cutting-edge research projects, the state Legislature is considering a pair of bills named in honor of a deceased UW-Madison professor.

The “Mark Cook Bill” would reform the university’s research contract approval process, speeding up the administration’s oversight role, in order to further encourage research and development in the state.

Mark Cook was an animal sciences professor at UW-Madison who started four companies and whose work led to 50 technology patents. Cook died of cancer in September of last year.

“Firstly, I would like to say that I am pleased that the bill honors the late Professor Mark Cook,” said Thomas Mackie, a professor of medical physics, human oncology and engineering physics at UW-Madison, during the bill’s hearing. “Mark was a friend and fellow board member of [the Association of Campus Entrepreneurs] and believed that entrepreneurship was the ultimate extension of science and technology to benefit society.”

Under current law, the UW System Board of Regents is given 45 days to review any research contract exceeding $250,000 when faculty have a financial stake in companies involved.

Critics argue that while managing conflicts of interest is central to research oversight, Wisconsin is lagging behind in innovative projects, losing such opportunities to other states with more relaxed requirements.

“Every academic entrepreneur has a management plan to ensure that the interests of the university and society are carefully maintained,” Mackie said. “Having a layer of regents’ approval on contracts from spin-off companies over $250,000 does not add to the carefulness but only adds bureaucracy and expense.

The Assembly unanimously passed the proposed legislation on Tuesday, while the Senate bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote.

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