The UCLA-USC crosstown rivalry took a new turn today with a major case of academic poaching. USC has lured away two prominent neuroscientists from UCLA with a promise to expand their internationally renowned lab.

uclabrainsTheir research uses brain imaging techniques to study Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism and other disorders. Arthur Toga and Paul Thompson will move to the USC Keck School of Medicine campus next fall, along with a team of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staffers who now work at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.

In establishing a new institute at the USC campus in Boyle Heights, they will also move substantial government and private grants that fund the lab’s $12 million dollar annual budget as well as some of the highly sophisticated equipment used to investigate the brain’s inner workings.

UCLA and the rest of the 10-campus University of California system has grappled with budget cuts over the last four years. Toga and Thompson told the Los Angeles Times that USC has pursued them for years with offers of larger facilities, additional financial resources and the chance to hire more researchers.

They said they were also were impressed with how quickly private universities can make changes compared with state schools.

LA Times education reporter Larry Gordon co-wrote an article today with Eryn Brown about the move, and joined KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis to discuss.

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    While I understand the news-worthiness of a major academic shift I am uncomfortable with the spin put on this story which compares it to the athletic rivalry between USC and UCLA. It doesn't seem quite appropriate to characterize scientific research in the same way as a football team. In addition, while I know it is informative to give the reasons behind the move (a dedicated building, less bureaucracy) the implication is that somehow the system in place at UCLA is inferior. What would have been more interesting to me would have been a compare/contrast between the advantages of public vs. private higher education. I also would have been curious to know how USC's funding sources (corporate and private donations) might affect the research being done. Will there be covert pressure to "monetize" the results of the research by the donors? I am sure that the scientists involved will insist that this won't happen, but higher education (and the research involved) is business after all. (p.s. A story idea- a comparison between the music programs of USC and UCLA. UCLA Music has been experiencing steady and impressive growth in funding, breadth of course offerings, and caliber of students. UCLA occupies a unique niche in the music world and is admired for its effort to create inter-disciplinary opportunities within different music genres (classical, ethnic, jazz) and between disciplines (art, architecture, film). The Herb Alpert School of Music is attracting top talent from across the country and around the world and the faculty is active in hosting joint faculty-student international programs while maintaining vigorous performing and lecturing careers.)

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