Throwing Fitz

The move to Fitzsimons was supposed to send CU's Health Sciences Center sailing into the 21st century. So why are so many doctors jumping ship?

But faculty say the numbers are misleading, that the HSC has merely been benefiting from a surge in NIH funding that is about to change, thanks to belt-tightening by the Bush administration. "The concern many of us have is that the NIH budget is flattening out," says Ed Abraham, director of the medical intensive-care unit at University Hospital. "It's hard to see how we can continue to grow without additional faculty, and faculty recruitment is remarkably expensive. It becomes increasingly difficult to recruit if you're spending a lot of money on new buildings."

The recruitment package for a junior basic scientist can exceed $400,000. Sladek contends that even if the ICR funds used at Fitzsimons had been spent recruiting top researchers, the center would have had no lab space to offer them. Instead, the HSC has a powerful recruiting tool: a fancy new campus. Ridgway says the school has eleven new hires lined up in oncology, as well as three in his own division, endocrinology.

"A lot of individuals have expressed an interest in moving here," Sladek says. "What you have to have is a critical mass of scientists and the right core laboratories. That's an enormous attraction."

 
 
New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 
at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health 
Sciences Center's Denver campus.
Anthony Camera
New digs: The recently opened Research Complex 1 at Fitzsimons replaces cramped space at the Health Sciences Center's Denver campus.

But it's unclear if that attraction will lure enough new researchers to compensate for the departures of veteran researchers. "New laboratories and new space are not unique to the University of Colorado," Abraham says. "A lot of medical schools have put up new research buildings. That's not enough to bring someone here."

Like Schooley, Abraham is not looking forward to dealing with a split campus. But he believes that poor communication between administration and faculty, rather than the move itself, is driving some of his colleagues to look for jobs elsewhere. "I think it's going to be good for all of us to be on a new campus, ultimately," he says. "But it would have been nicer if the communication had been better all along."

Administrators point to countless task forces and committees they've formed to solicit faculty input on various phases of the move. Still, some participants question the effectiveness of that process. "The most important thing they could have done was to sit down with faculty to figure out the best way to do this," says Steven Dubovsky, who recently left the HSC to become chair of psychiatry at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "But my experience with every one of those discussions was that it was just a token discussion."

Those discussions also never made clear the true financial picture of the project. Initially, HSC officials anticipated raising as much as $380 million from private sources to help fund the construction at Fitzsimons. But as fundraising fell short of expectations and the time frame for the move was accelerated, the figure kept dropping, even as cost estimates for the plan soared. As recently as 2000, administrators were still projecting that $68 million could be raised from private donors -- but to date, only $20 million has been raised, with an expectation of raising another $14 million for RC 2. (The fundraising for the hospitals, which comes from different sources, isn't included in the total, nor is the $92 million pledged over thirty years by a Florida executive for the new orthodontics center.)

To make up for the shortfall, the planners turned to the state legislature for a bailout in the form of certificates of participation, a type of bond debt that doesn't require voter approval. But issuance of the COPS has been stalled indefinitely by a lawsuit filed by a prison-reform group challenging the validity of the bond package, which also includes funds slated for building new prisons. That's thrown off the timeline for construction of $203 million in academic buildings at Fitzsimons, compounding the split-campus dilemma.

And building delays aren't the only formidable obstacle facing administrators as they push their "team-driven learning" concept at Fitzsimons. Faculty from the School of Pharmacy recently took their concerns about the move to the HSC Faculty Assembly, protesting that current plans call for a substantial reduction in research space for their work; that administrators had shelved proposals for a stand-alone building for the school, despite calculations that suggested it would be less costly; and that CU was $20 million short of the funds needed to complete the School of Medicine's space in RC 2.

The School of Pharmacy has been one of the HSC's major success stories over the past decade, ever since it moved from Boulder into its $16 million building on the Denver campus in 1992; half of the funding for the building was raised by faculty and donors. The school now receives more NIH grants per faculty member than any other school of pharmacy in the country and is ranked as the top program in the nation by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. But faculty members say that their budget and administrative support have taken a severe hit because of the move.

"It's difficult to go out and fund-raise for Fitzsimons, especially when some people just paid off their commitments on the present building," says Louis Diamond, the school's dean. "Our faculty are very concerned. There are no concrete plans to move us as an intact entity. We've had a meteoric rise since we all moved into one building. If we get squeezed into other places, we won't have room to continue to grow our programs."

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