Faculty find faults with 'Penn Integrates Knowledge'
Some professors argue that the program spends too much money on recruiting
April 17, 2012, 10:57 pm·
As the administration announced the appointment of the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge professor yesterday, some biomedical researchers have been expressing their frustrations with the program.
According to Professor of Neurology and Radiology John Detre, a number of professors have claimed that a lack of resources for research funding could be made up if the University dipped into funds from the PIK program.
The PIK initiative, established by Penn President Amy Gutmann in 2005, is a University-wide program to recruit professors whose research spans multiple academic disciplines.
“[PIK is] a good program, but it has a lot of strings attached to it, particularly in the area of biomedical research,” said Professor of Neurology and Radiology John Detre. “Some of the contractual agreements of the PIK program … become impediments rather than enhancements.”
Detre, the director of the Center for Functional Neuroimaging, criticized the extent of resources tied exclusively to recruitment that cannot be tapped into by existing faculty.
“One thing that we’ve heard repeatedly from the administration is that ‘if we can get this person [for the PIK program] and that person needs a scanner for their research, then we can tie the cost of the scanner to their recruitment,’” Detre said.
He described circumstances in which dozens of researchers and projects currently share a single fMRI scanner, a load that won’t be reduced until a new PIK professor of biomedical research is hired.
Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Lees emphasized, however, that funding for the PIK program is completely separate from other resources and should not be viewed as a cannibalization of existing resources.
The PIK professorships “are supported by new funding raised specifically for this purpose, and so represent an addition to existing resources for faculty hiring and research,” she wrote in an email.
For example, Penn’s Health System contributed $50 million in 2008 for a neuroscience initiative designed specifically to endow five new PIK professorships. Some of these funds will be used to provide start-up resources for PIK neuroscience professors.
But Detre said that “having all resources tied to recruitment has paralyzed to some extent the area of work.”
Detre said the reason biomedical researchers are frustrated with the program more than faculty members in other subject areas is because biomedical research requires more resources, overhead and instrumentation.
“In my own work as a historian, I have not found the lack of equipment or resources a problem,” Lees wrote.
Psychiatry professor Ruben Gur said he found fault with the PIK program not only because of the resources it reserves but also because it is “part of a trend” in which the administration’s focus has shifted from developing internal talent to recruiting externally.
“It’s a wonderful idea to integrate knowledge,” he said. “[But] why does it have to be somebody from the outside?”
Detre, too, said there are a lot of researchers at Penn who fit the PIK model in that they’re already collaborating and doing interdisciplinary work. “The idea that the resources are set aside to try to find somebody else to do that can be frustrating.”
Gur said the administration’s mentality is such that “the faculty who brought Penn to the place it is now are no longer good enough for Penn. [The administration believes that] if you want to bring Penn higher, you need to bring [talent] from the outside.”
“Penn is replacing a bunch of Tebows with Mannings,” he said, using a football analogy.
Penn President Amy Gutmann defended the University’s efforts in both faculty recruitment and retention.
“The Penn Integrates Knowledge professorships are one component of a larger plan that has enabled us to enhance an already great faculty,” she said. “At the same time as we have been hiring PIK professors, we have added over 100 newly named professorships, and we also have made more joint appointments of existing faculty between schools and departments than ever before in Penn’s history.”
Lees also discussed the high esteem with which the administration views the faculty.
“Our standing faculty is Penn’s greatest asset,” she wrote, “and we not only recognize their innovative scholarship, teaching and research accomplishments, but we regularly provide substantial resources to sustain those activities.”