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Gov. Branstad tours University of Iowa facility, addresses faculty concerns

$126 million research building focus of visit

Dr. Michael Welsh (left), University of Iowa Professor and Director of the UI Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, leads Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on a tour along with Dr. Jean E. Robillard at the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. The $126 million interdisciplinary research facility will open in June. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Dr. Michael Welsh (left), University of Iowa Professor and Director of the UI Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, leads Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on a tour along with Dr. Jean E. Robillard at the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. The $126 million interdisciplinary research facility will open in June. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
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While touring the University of Iowa’s new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building on Tuesday, Gov. Terry Branstad praised its innovative and entrepreneurial spirit and said he expects it will attract skilled scientists along with local and national acclaim. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds toured the new $126 million facility after meeting with UI faculty leaders Tuesday. Among the topics Branstad said he discussed with faculty members while on campus was a recent proposal to change the way the Board of Regents distributes state appropriations.

The proposal would tie 60 percent of the state dollars to resident student enrollment. If applied in one year based on current enrollment statistics, that would make Iowa State University the top funded regent institution and slash nearly $60 million from the UI’s appropriation.

Branstad said he heard UI faculty concerns Tuesday, and he noted the challenge the Board of Regents faces in trying to be fair to all three state universities, faculty members, and students.

He acknowledged the regent responsibility to fund Iowa students with Iowa dollars but, after recognizing the national attention the new UI biomedical facility could attract, Branstad said the state also values academic and student diversity — including international and out-of-state students and research and graduate-level studies.

“I think it’s important the regents take into consideration all of these concerns,” Branstad said, adding that nothing has been formally approved and the regents plan to phase in any changes they do approve over several years.

The Board of Regents last year asked a task force to come up with a possible performance-based funding model because Iowa’s way of allocating state funds hasn’t changed since 1945. The board plans to discuss the proposal and possibly make a decision at its June 4 meeting.

Branstad on Tuesday said the funding method needed review and he’s looking forward to hearing the board’s “thoughtful” analysis of the proposed changes.

Erika Lawrence, UI associate professor of psychology and former president of the UI Faculty Senate, said faculty members have met with Regent President Bruce Rastetter about the funding issues, and they’re looking forward to hearing what possible changes regents might make to the proposal in recognition of extra costs associated with educating professional and graduate students.

“Hopefully those meetings will lead to a change to the initial model that was released,” Lawrence said.

UI faculty have expressed concern about what the proposed funding model might mean for the university’s academic programming and research, which UI leaders highlighted Tuesday during Branstad’s tour of the UI’s new Biomedical Discovery Building.

The 256,000-square-foot six-floor facility, scheduled to open next month, will be dedicated to enabling “cutting edge” interdisciplinary biomedical research on campus, according to UI officials. The state provided initial funding of $30 million for the building, and federal grants and gifts — like the $26.4 million donation from longtime UI supporters John and Mary Pappajohn — helped fill out the rest of the cost.

The facility will house the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center and enable study of epidemic obesity. It also will be home to the Francois M. Abboud Cardiovascular Research Center, the UI Neurosciences Institute, the UI Auditory Research Program, the UI Lung Biology Center and the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging.

The imaging institute will include a 7 Tesla MRI scanner, one of only about 20 powerful imaging tools in the nation capable of providing the clearest pictures of microstructures and biological processes that drive the human body and brain, according to UI spokeswoman Jennifer Brown.

Following the tour, Branstad sat in on a presentation about how innovation and entrepreneurship are intersecting in the UI Carver College of Medicine. According to the presentation, the college has fostered the launch of 25 new commercial start-ups over the past few decades.

Steven Mickelsen, a fellow with the UI’s division of Cardiovascular Medicine who did his residency at the Mayo Clinic, talked about his startup — Iowa Approach Inc. — which develops cost- and timesaving catheter-based tools to treat atrial fibrillation.

He said he’s a believer in patenting products and getting them in use.

“Even with the best idea in the world, it’s not a therapy without it being in the marketplace,” he said. “And this wasn’t possible without the university setting.”

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