- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Two top brain researchers are leaving the University of Oregon, and taking their labs and research grants to the University of Chicago.

The move is a setback for a university that is trying to recruit top talent. Professors Ed Awh and Ed Vogel have been central to a hiring effort the UO was pursuing.

It’s not uncommon for elite universities to hire top researchers away from other schools, and the UO is downplaying the significance of the researchers’ departure.

“Brain research is very broad here at the University of Oregon. Our Institute of Neuroscience will still have about 17 people even after the two Eds leave. That’s a very, very powerful group of researchers,” said Brad Shelton, interim vice president for research and innovation.

The UO made an “aggressive counteroffer,” but it’s difficult for a public school to compete with an elite university with a robust endowment, psychology department head Ulrich Mayr told the Eugene Register-Guard (https://bit.ly/11IwUK1 ).

“At a really excellent place (such as UO), where the money is tight, you serve as college football does for the NFL,” Mayr said. “We just hope that this doesn’t happen too often.”

Awh and Vogel were the heart of a “Neurons to Minds” cluster-of-excellence hiring proposal the UO was pursuing. The UO selected 10 of its top research efforts - mostly in the sciences - and hoped to raise millions of dollars for each to hire additional faculty.

The clusters will take the UO from good to great, Chuck Lillis, president of the UO board of trustees, told faculty in a meeting earlier this week.

To pursue the neuroscience cluster now, the UO would have to hire two senior researchers who are working on the cusp of discovery to replace Awh and Vogel - plus two more senior researchers and junior faculty to round out the cluster.

“I don’t think our cluster is dead at this point,” Mayr said. “It’s on hold and will be revised later once we have regrouped.”

In some ways, it’s flattering that Chicago poached two scientists - both of whom had been at the UO for about 15 years and built their reputations there.

Mayr hopes to start the search for a couple of new neuroscientists soon. “People like to come to Oregon, so I do expect to get good candidates,” he said.

“We have also been very successful in the past in terms of keeping stars in our ranks without them leaving. You have to fight for that. We have been able to win that fight,” Mayr said.

Shelton, meanwhile, said he knows of no other retention threats that would derail another cluster proposal, but he wouldn’t be surprised if new challenges arise.

“There are always groups and people on the verge of being poached when you have really good people,” he said. “We have a lot of really, really good researchers here. We worry about this all the time.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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