Univ. advances toward research goal with new VP

The University took a major step toward its goal of expanding research opportunities with the announcement of a prominent neuroscientist as the first vice president for research last month.

Dr. Leo Chalupa will be the University’s chief research officer – a position that administrators hope will launch GW into the competitive research market. The position was created by University President Steven Knapp in early 2008 and is backed with a $5.4 million budget allocation to increase the University’s research efforts over a three-year period.

To jump-start the initiative, Chalupa will have the “Chief Research Officer’s Startup Fund” at his disposal, designed to provide seed money for new research undertakings. The fund will start at $300,000 for his first year and grow by an additional $100,000 for two years, officials said.

Chalupa’s role as vice president of research will include connecting GW’s medical and non-medical research divisions. He will work extensively with Dr. John Williams, provost and vice president for health affairs, and Donald Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, on “cross-school research initiatives,” according to a statement released by the University last month.

Members of the Executive Research Oversight Committee, which includes Williams, Lehman and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz, said they are pleased with the announcement.

GW is “on the road” to reaching its research goals, Williams said, adding, “Now we have a strong leader.”

Williams credited Chalupa with successfully merging medical and non-medical areas of research in his current position at the University of California-Davis.

More important to the University is Chalupa’s history of securing a number of prestigious grants, including ones from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Guggenheim Foundation. Of the $5.4 million investment for research, the total allocation for the current academic year will be $1 million, with most of that money going to aid faculty members in procuring external funding for their research, Lehman said.

But the vice president for research position and initial research investments are part of a wide-ranging plan designed by Knapp to shift the University’s academic and financial focus in the coming years to become a prominent research institution.

Since his inauguration in 2007, Knapp has repeated that remaking GW into a “top-tier” research university is one of his major priorities. A crucial part to his campus-wide plan includes building an estimated $300 million science center, which would likely be the most expensive building project in University history. Hermann Helgert, who presented the proposal, predicted in November that much of the money to fund the science center’s construction would have to come from donations and research grants.

Knapp said at a Faculty Senate meeting last month that the Board of Trustees has been supportive of the project, especially after viewing the current research facilities.

“I think it’s fair to say they found the experience appalling,” Knapp said of the trustees’ tour. “This is really not adequate space for professional work in the sciences being done in this era. They were state-of-the-art facilities seven, eight, nine decades ago.”

Some GW community members, including faculty, have criticized the project as a waste of resources and an unproductive shift in academic focus, arguing that the millions are better spent on GW’s strengths like political science and international affairs.

Chalupa, who did not respond to requests for comment, currently serves as the director of the Center for Neuroscience and chair of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior division at UC-Davis. Chalupa will not begin his work at GW until April, to give him time to move to the East coast and complete his duties at UC-Davis.

<emSarah Scire and Husna Kazmir contributed to this report.

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