Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Moral Bankruptcy of Tel Aviv University

Tel Aviv University is having financial difficulties. As a public campus, some of the burden for this lies on the State of Israel, but some of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of those who have been running our university.

One of the most irksome issues is that of applied research. Weizmann Institute brings $100,000,000 a year from royalties of service inventions. The Hebrew University brings $40,000,000 a year. And Tel-Aviv University? Only a few millions a year. In fact, for years, most of their royalty stream derived from three service patents from my own laboratory.

I have been writing to University administrators for years, hoping that they would realize that the continued humiliation and denigration of the few professors who have succeeded in actually developing successful projects is to their own detriment. Our university has a track record of being vindictive towards its own inventors, misappropriating significant parts of their research budgets, and ridiculing their success. No wonder they bring in such paltry royalty streams.

For over twenty years, the university followed its own patent by-laws dating back to 1977. Certain sections were given an interpretation which the university sanctioned over the years. In particular, 20% of the income from patent royalties was directed to the laboratories of the inventors. However, over the past five years, the university has unilaterally begun siphoning off and misappropriating significant amounts of these research funds. According to my calculations, the university owes my laboratory over $250,000 in research funds. For all I know they have been using this money to support unrelated research, 'pet projects' or even to cover the expenses of their own management (or mismanagement, as the case may be). The university recently chose to compose a new set of patent by-laws for new inventions, which are constraining and self-defeating. The attempts of applied researchers all over campus to prevent this unilateral step were largely unheeded. A meeting scheduled months ago with the new President of the university was never held (to the best of my knowledge).

After appealing to every possible address at Tel Aviv University, from the dean of my faculty to the general manager, rector and the president of the university, with no response whatsoever, I have no recourse but to bring this to the public knowledge, by writing a series of monographs, explaining how the university has taken the low moral road. Unfortunately the problem with applied research is just the tip of the iceberg. The university's lack of moral fiber extends to its cynicism in mistreatment of its own students and its donors, and its lack of vision for the future.

I must emphasize that I love Tel Aviv University (but not its administration). My conscience will not allow me peace unless I start telling it like it is. As an employee talking out against his management, I assume that there will be repercussions. But I will no longer be silenced.

Please let me know what you think.

Mel Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Microbiology

Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

1 comment:

Dan Price said...

I could not agree more. I too teach at the TA University and would love to share some ideas of how learn from other institutions which have successfully managed to deal with similar challenges...