Members of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), a venerable but financially strapped research institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, voted 158 to 2 today in favour of an alliance with the University of Chicago, in Illinois.
The proposed affiliation, if approved, would shift control of the MBL to the University of Chicago.
But the alignment gained widespread support as a way to brighten the 125-year-old institution’s financial outlook as well as solidify its scientific connections.
“The institution has had longstanding ties with the University,” says MBL senior scientist Jonathan Gitlin. He notes that the MBL’s first two directors, Charles O. Whitman and Frank Lillie, were both faculty members at the University of Chicago. He described the atmosphere at the 1 June vote as jubilant, and says that the partnership “will lead to another great step in the future of the institution”.
MBL president and director Joan Ruderman proposed the affiliation last December after facing losses in contributions and investment earning, financial hardships shared by many private labs. Since 2009, the institute’s annual revenue has dropped by more than US$8 million, leaving it with $41 million in income in 2012. Meanwhile, the costs to run the lab, which employs 270 scientists and staff and hosts more than 300 visiting scholars each year, have increased. The institute’s expenses overshot its income by nearly $6 million last year.
“This affiliation is definitely intended to improve this [financial] situation,” says corporation member Garland Allen, a biologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
In a 28 January letter to the MBL community, Ruderman described the affiliation as a way to “create an improved financial foundation that will enable the MBL to meet the demands of modern science and current funding realities”.
For its part, the University of Chicago aims to use the connection to bolster its research in marine biology and conservation. In a 24 May letter to the MBL community, Neil Shubin, associate dean for academic strategy at the university, wrote that these “fields are not among the University’s existing strengths”. He went on to write that the university supported the affiliation because they “believe in the fundamental intellectual model of the MBL, despite the challenging financial environment”.
The decision to finalize the affiliation now moves to the board of trustees at each institution, both of which declined to provide a timeline for a decision, citing further negotiations.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this blog post suggested that the MBL is controlled by its corporation members when in fact it is governed by its board of trustees.