Loren Steffy tells us about politics infecting research at Texas A&M. And Rick Perry is involved. Shocking, I know.
In January, the state awarded A&M $50 million from the Emerging Technology Fund, which purports to benefit private-sector technology startups, for the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, which plans to develop new vaccines.
Unfortunately, the infusion of taxpayer money is showing some disturbing symptoms that have been found in other state economic development deals: a web of political relationships and arrangements with financially shaky companies with ties to key decision makers in the process.
Funding for the therapeutics center is drawing scrutiny because of a power struggle between the university’s main campus in College Station and the A&M System, which oversees 10 other campuses statewide. Chancellor Mike McKinney, who runs the system, ousted A&M president Elsa Murano in June, partly because of a dispute over who should control research budgets. Provost Jeffrey Vitter quit last week.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the NCTM project was the biggest grant ever for the tech fund, which is overseen by Gov. Rick Perry, an A&M alum.
About the time the governor’s office and the A&M System began discussing the grant, the fund’s director, Mark Ellison, quit to become A&M’s associate chancellor for economic development. Ellison told state lawmakers investigating the grant earlier this year that he wasn’t involved in the discussions.
The grant given to A&M caused a stir in the Lege because it was done by Governor Perry with essentially no oversight. An amendment was added to the budget bill that would require such grants to be approved by the 10-member Legislative Budget Board, but offhand I don’t know if it survived into the final bill. There was also an attempt to zero out the Emerging Technology and Texas Enterprise funds in the event Perry vetoed the bill to accept stimulus funds for unemployment insurance, but as that bill never made it to his desk it became a moot point. So as far as I know the underlying political issue still exists. As for A&M, they have plenty of other problems to deal with right now, many of which are related to the Governor’s office. Funny how that’s so often the common thread in these stories, isn’t it?