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Wright State research arm tries to rebuild reputation amid investigations

By David Schwartz
Published: February 6th, 2018

Wright State Research Institute is try to rise from the ashes left by years of investigations and financial issues that have sown distrust among university faculty and the community in Dayton, OH, where the institute is based.

The Research Institute serves as Wright State University’s research arm, providing R&D services to various businesses and government agencies like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Administrators hope the period of controversy will soon end, and that the Institute can get back to its mission of helping to move research forward toward commercialization. But one of the legacies from the past is a financial hole of its own making that the Institute will need to crawl out of.

“I’ll be honest with you. The last three or four years, it’s [been] like doing a remodel job on a house,” said Dennis Andersh, who has been director of WSRI since 2015. “When you open up a wall you don’t know what you’re going to find in the wall and you might have to change your plans.”

The Institute brought in around $39 million in sponsored research last year and has already garnered $12 million only one month into 2018. It has 85 employees, including 10 hired in the last nine months. In addition, it appears to be regaining the trust of some partners, having been

awarded competitive contracts from organizations like Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Washington, D.C.

Investigations into the Institute have surrounded its immigration compliance, as well as its financial dealing. It has been the subject of several investigations stemming from possible misuse of H-1B visas, and those investigations are still ongoing.

More recently, WSRI has been blamed for some of Wright State’s financial problems, which prompted trustees to cut more than $30 million from the university’s budget in June. It is now financially independent of the university, but the Institute is still paying back $780,000 over the next few years, Andersh said.

These and other problems have created a morale issue as well as tension between WSRI researchers and university faculty. In the past, faculty contend, Institute researchers would recruit them to work on a study, then summarily kick them off the project once a grant was awarded, Andersh said.

All the negativity has even caused WSRI to lose employees to competing organizations, such as the University of Dayton Research Institute.

Still, there are no regrets about the Institute’s creation. “It was exactly what the university needed to do, but it was done poorly,” said WSU President Cheryl Schrader. “It is now where it needs to be.”

Andersh said the institute has fixed its problems and atoned for them already. He and his “great team” of researchers are trying to move on and focus on scoring big contracts.

Rebuilding public trust in WSRI may take years, but it’s important to “stay positive” even if details of past problems continue to emerge, Andersh said. “We’ve spent so much time addressing the investigations and so forth,” Andersh said. “The past is the past and we’re focused on going forward. You’re going to see more of us in the next six months.”

Source: myDayton Daily News

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