Officials optimistic about recent review

Kristin Gustafson

Board of Regents Audit Committee members were briefed Thursday about a National Institutes of Health fact-finding visit.
Christine Maziar, vice president of research and Graduate School dean, and Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center senior vice president, presented their impressions of the nearly weeklong visit.
Maziar told the board she was optimistic about the Oct. 11 NIH visit when 11 NIH officials toured the campus and observed the new grants-management system.
“We think this was a very good visit,” Maziar told the regents.
Regent Maureen Reed said Maziar and Cerra are “shrewd judges” of the University’s performance and NIH expectations.
“To me that is cause for optimism,” Reed said, referring to the visit and need for NIH approval. “From a board-member perspective, it is imperative that we nail it.”
The University has been eager to regain good NIH standing since it was labeled an “exceptional organization” in October 1995. The NIH closely monitors and assists in the management of all grants at exceptional organizations.
The probationary status followed misappropriation of funds involving the anti-organ rejection drug ALG. The Food and Drug Administration found, among other violations, that the University garnered more than $80 million in ALG sales between 1969 and 1992. The University was forced to return millions of dollars.
In response to the mismanagement and the exceptional-status label, the University created the Electronic Grants Management System — a tracking device that allows researchers and administrators to apply for and manage grants over the Internet.
“It lets us do a much better job of tracking where documents are in the system,” Maziar said.
She said the system allows administrators to find irregularities more quickly. She added that other universities have looked to the process as a model.
In addition to the grants system, Maziar said the University’s administrative structures and intellectual policy helped sell the University’s reform efforts to the NIH.
The NIH team is now writing a report for Diana Jaeger, director of the NIH’s Office of Policy and Extramural Research Administration. She will help determine whether the University’s exceptional status should be lifted.
Maziar said she anticipates an NIH response by December or January.
“This was probably one of the most thorough, outcome-based, effectiveness evaluations I have ever seen,” Cerra told the board committee members. “They did a very excellent job. They were very well prepared. They were very thorough.
“They did not really give us a sense of their analysis,” Cerra said. “I think we all felt fairly good about the site visit; we just have to wait and see.”

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.