The Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) is revising plans for a new health research institute, following faculty opposition to aspects of the preliminary proposals of departmental reorganization, according to Professor of Developmental, Molecular & Chemical Biology Brent Cochran.
While the details have yet to be finalized, a committee has been formed to explore the possibilities of creating an institute, Linden Hu, vice dean for research at TUSM, wrote in an email to the Daily.
He said one of the motivations behind the institute is to foster collaboration among researchers at the School of Medicine, in line with a growing trend in the field.
“More and more, the best research is being done not by solo investigators as in the past, but by teams of researchers with different expertise working together,” Hu explained.
He added that the ultimate goal is to create an institute model which allows any university or university-affiliated researchers to work together on projects, regardless of which school they are connected with.
However, parts of the initial plans for the institute sparked confusion and controversy among some of the TUSM’s faculty.
Cochran and his fellow professor of Developmental, Molecular & Chemical Biology Larry Feig, along with Professor of Molecular Biology & Microbiology Michael Malamy, began raising concerns about the institute over the summer.
Cochran, Feig and Malamy are all senators on the TUSM faculty senate and were surprised when they heard about the planned research institute, Cochran said.
Malamy explained that usually such important conversations include the faculty senators. He added that faculty members, including himself, have already begun to develop research centers. But despite their positions on the senate, the professors only found out the plans were serious when one of the department chairs mentioned it over the summer, Cochran said.
“There’s been no communications directly to the senate,” Malamy said. “By the existing bylaws, the senate, whose only power is to gather information, is to be informed of any major plans, decisions [and] changes of direction in advance so that the senate could in fact solicit opinions from other faculty and serve as a conduit between the administration and the faculty.”
Hu rejected the idea the faculty had not been involved, writing that they comprised half of a committee tasked with discussing a potential institute and that the Dean’s Research Advisory Council, an entirely faculty committee, was also asked for input.
In total, the dean said that 20% of basic science, tenured and tenure track professors have already had a hand in the planning process.
“We have not yet brought the plans to our faculty senate because we are not far along in the planning process to have anything concrete to discuss,” he wrote.
Cochran said that the initial plans for the new institute implied a major faculty reorganization, immediately raising worries about the potential negative consequences it could mean for professors.
“All of the basic science departments would be dissolved, the institute would be created, certain faculty would be invited to be part of that institute, and that faculty that were not invited into the institute might be in jeopardy of losing their jobs even if they were tenured,” Cochran said.
Since then, Hu held a meeting to clarify the proposal and told his department that reorganization was off the table. The four science departments are no longer going to be dissolved and faculty tenure will remain intact under the institute model.
Given this major update in how the institute would affect faculty, Cochran said that many of the qualms he and other professors had have been resolved.
Hu said he does not have a concrete idea for when the institute would launch, emphasizing that faculty members, including himself, had already begun some research institutes.
“I am already working on developing a new center for it around my area of interest, Lyme disease, which will encompass the med school, vet school, Fletcher and the undergrad campus,” Hu wrote, referring to TUSM, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Tufts Medford/Somerville campus.
Cochran said he does not have enough information on the research institute model to reject it entirely. He added that the faculty do not generally reject the idea of creating institutes focused on specific research topics and admitted that the institute model could aid fundraising efforts.
“We were told that one of the motives for creating an institute was it might be easier to fundraise for institutes that were organized around particular diseases,” Cochran said. “That’s what I imagine might happen.”