FSU to return gifts totaling $11 million

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 10:59 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State University plans to return gifts totaling $11 million, plus interest, to a professor acclaimed for developing a lifesaving synthetic cancer drug in a bid to end a dispute over a new chemistry building, school officials said Wednesday.
Robert Holton's MDS Research Foundation donated the money with conditions that the building focus heavily on his specialty: synthetic organic chemistry.
The foundation sued the university last year after Florida State President T.K. Wetherell decided instead to construct a general chemistry building costing in excess of $55 million. University officials say Holton's vision was too expensive, costing about twice that amount including endowed faculty chairs and research expenses.
"No professor has the right to create a shrine to his own research area with public funds," Wetherell said in the university's statement.
The offer to return MDS donations of $6 million given in 1999 and $5 million in 2002 will not be excepted nor will it end the lawsuit that seeks to enforce requirements attached to the gifts, said foundation president Mike Devine.
"Returning half a loaf is not good enough," Holton said in a statement. "Our goal was to do something world class, and it turned into something mediocre."
MDS and Holton contend if Florida State is allowed to ignore the donor agreements it also must return $18.5 million earmarked for the building to a laboratory fund established from $210 million in royalties the school has received from the cancer drug Holton developed, synthetic Taxol.
"That's university money," said Brooks Keel, Florida State's associate vice president for research. "It's under the control of the president."
Holton personally earned $140 million from his innovation and used part of that sum to set up the research foundation.
A judge last month sent the lawsuit into mediation that is scheduled for Jan. 26-27. Wetherell said in his statement, however, that efforts to reach a compromise have failed because Holton's "demands remain onerous."
Until Wednesday's announcement, Florida State officials had argued that Holton was entitled at best to return of the $5 million 2002 contribution because the 1999 agreement accompanying the $6 million donation lacks specific requirements.
Kirby Kemper, Florida State's vice president for research, said synthetic organic chemistry had been dominant in the battle against cancer 10 years ago but no longer.
"Science changes at the speed of light, and today other fields of chemistry now offer a much broader range of approaches to fighting cancer and other diseases," he said in the university's statement.
Devine responded that the nation's top chemistry departments are strong in synthetic organic chemistry while Florida State remains weak in the field with only four faculty members including Holton. Florida State, however, cannot attract top-notch synthetic organic chemists because it lacks proper facilities, he said.

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