Funders row boils over at Oxford's IMM

February 6, 1998

A row over conflicts of interest at Oxford University's multi-funded Institute of Molecular Medicine reached fever pitch this week, as staff rejected a proposed review of its administration by a university bureaucrat on behalf of a funder, writes Phil Baty.

Following revelations of long-term acrimony between the institute's academics and its funders last week, Oxford's secretary of the chest, John Clements, is proposing to lead a review of the award-winning institute's administration on behalf of the Medical Research Council.

But staff at the institute, co-funded by the university, the Wellcome Trust and the MRC, are angry the review will be conducted by a bureaucrat with no official decision-making powers.

It is feared the funders want more control over the administration, and want to remove a long-serving female member of staff.

Fergus Millar, a member of Oxford's governing council, has confirmed he has "raised the issue" of the dispute with the council.

He said he would not comment on "confidential" council business until it is resolved, but sources close to the dispute confirmed that he has demanded to know who authorised the review and what authority Mr Clements had to make decisions.

Professor Sir David Weatherall, director of the institute, was in California as The THES went to press. John Clegg, deputy director, confirmed he had written to the secretary of Oxford's general board, expressing his concern about the legality of the review but would not comment further.

One source said: "The funders seem to do what they like. It makes no sense to have a bureaucrat trying to resolve a problem like this; it will just compound it."

Mr Clements, as secretary of the chest, has no formal decision-making powers, a spokeswoman for Oxford confirmed. He "is responsible for facilitating the review of the administration at the Institute," she said. "He will be reporting the information to the Medical Research Council and the university. The institute is under the management of the MRC. He is not responsible for decision-making."

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