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It is getting kind of ugly - the University and our part-time governor

From Thomas Lee's excellent Patent Pending blog:

There's certainly no love lost between the Pawlenty Administration and the University of Minnesota.

First, there's the usual budget spats. And then DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy's threat earlier this year to wage "budget jihad" against the U if a planned start-up based on university research in regenerative medicine leaves the state.

But now Governor and would-be presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has waded directly into the fray. During a keynote speech Wednesday to The Collaborative's annual venture capital conference, Pawlenty chided the U for lacking a risk taking, entrepreneurial culture and not working well with outside companies, according to sources.

He also helpfully suggested the U should exclusively license its technology to local companies, even if it means the school has to "take a haircut." Then Pawlenty cracked his usual joke about teachers and tenure- that the only place to find job security without merit is government and the university.

But what Pawlenty said is almost besides the point. It's where he said it that really pisses off U officials. Ripping the U at a conference designed to generate investor interest in local start-ups seems counterproductive, especially at a time when the state is trying jump start a weak economy.

"I'm really disappointed in the governor's comments," said U tech transfer chief Jay Schrankler, who attended the speech. "The relationship between the university and governor could be better."

The governor's suggestion about university licensing is also noteworthy. Republicans are supposed stand for business, of free market capitalism. The U granting sweetheart deals to local firms because they're local doesn't sound very free market to me. It sounds protectionist and parochial.

If Pawlenty doesn't think much of the U, then the feeling is quite mutual.
U officials say the school is a convenient scapegoat for politicians who can't do simple things like pass an angel investment tax credit. (Pawlenty says he supports such credits and is optimistic that they will pass in 2010. Glad to know that seven years of futility hasn't dampened his optimism.)

The back and forth bickering is why we look like chumps compared to Wisconsin.
(Check out my recent two-part series on Wisconsin biotech). Minnesota will never improve its situation if the governor and the state's top research university can't get it together.

In the Badger State, the University of Wisconsin has worked hand in hand with governors and legislators of both parties to craft one of the country's best environments for tech transfer and biotech start-ups.

"I don't think we're quite on par with what's happening in Wisconsin,"
said Mulcahy, an observation that wins my vote for Understatement of the Year.

This situation points to a failure in leadership, both in St. Paul and in Morrill Hall. Within the next few years there will be turnover both places. In fact it would be best for both the state and the university if the current occupants immediately resigned.

Let's hope that the behavior of the incumbents is kept in mind when selecting their successors.


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