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Rockefeller split over Baltimore presidency offer

By Prabhat Mehta

Rockefeller University faculty members are divided over the prospect of having Whitehead Institute Director David Baltimore '61 as their next president. The trustees of the prestigious biomedical research university, located in New York City, unanimously voted to offer Baltimore the position in late September. Since then, the offer has become the center of a dispute between members of the Rockefeller faculty and its trustees.

Many of the complaints about Baltimore, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975, stem from his involvement in a controversial article published three years ago in the journal Cell. The article has become the subject of ongoing investigations into charges of fraud and misconduct. Despite having only a peripheral role in the actual research of the paper, Baltimore became a leading figure in the investigations.

Researchers at Rockefeller have criticized Baltimore's handling of the entire affair and question his ability to lead a university. Several faculty members also contend that bringing in such a controversial figure would draw unwanted, negative publicity their way.

Some of the faculty is upset over the way the trustees surprised them with the Baltimore offer. Norton D. Zinder, a professor of microbial genetics, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that after some professors had expressed their objections to Baltimore as a possible candidate, the trustees had given them the impression that he had withdrawn. However, in early October, faculty members received a written notice that the trustees had offered Baltimore the job and that he had not yet decided whether or not to accept it.

Baltimore flew to New York last week to meet with faculty members at Rockefeller and discuss issues of concern. Alfred Kildow, an assistant to Baltimore, described the mood at the discussions as positive. He said that Baltimore had spoken with some of his opponents during the discussions.

Baltimore could not be reached for comment.

Kildow claimed that only about 15 of the more than 200 Rockefeller professors actually object to the Baltimore offer. However, last week The New York Times reported that there were at least 15 opponents among the 42 full professors alone.