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Trustees laud Bucks for Brains, arena hiring successes

by UofL Today last modified Jan 20, 2011 10:38 AM

More than a decade after its implementation, Kentucky's Bucks for Brains program continues to pay off in dollars and in scientific breakthroughs, according to a presentation to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees Jan. 13.

Bill Pierce, interim executive vice president for research, told the trustees' Academic and Student Affairs Committee that the program, officially called the Research Challenge Trust Fund, has been a financial boon to the university. Since 1998, the state has invested more than $120 million in funding to help attract researchers and support their work. UofL has matched that funding.

Every $1 invested in the program has produced a $5 return, Pierce said.

Bucks for Brains also has produced remarkable medical results. Scott Whittemore, neurosurgery faculty member and Bucks for Brains endowed chair, and Jonathan Hodes, neurosurgery chairman, showed how UofL researchers are using the funding to help paralyzed patients regain function.

Hodes said UofL researchers have found that by retraining the "auxiliary brain" in patients' spinal cords, they have helped them regain the ability to stand and to control bodily functions.

Trustee Robert Hughes, a physician from Murray, Ky., praised the researchers, calling the findings "very exciting."

Jim Host, chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority, provided his own brand of excitement as he discussed the efforts to include minority- and women-owned businesses in construction of the KFC Yum! Center.

Host told the trustees Finance Committee that the Arena Authority set and surpassed goals of 20 percent minority participation and 5 percent participation by women-owned businesses on the project. He also pointed out that more than 60 percent of the arena work was completed by Louisville-based contractors and 75 percent by Kentucky and Southern Indiana-based companies.

The Arena Authority's effort, called Kentuckiana Construction Pipeline, also included training programs for people entering trades. Host said 293 candidates completed training programs, with 119 people placed in jobs. Ninety-five minority and 12 women candidates completed the training, he said.

Host told the board that the arena project may serve as a national model for employment of minorities and women, and he urged the university to adopt similar goals for all its future construction projects.

Also at the meeting, the interim chief executive officer of Passport Health Plan discussed that organization's response to a Kentucky state auditor's report that was critical of the organization. Passport is a managed care program through which more than 170,000 Kentuckians receive health care. UofL physicians are partners in the program.

Auditor Crit Luallen had issued the report in November. In a letter to former Passport CEO Larry Cook, Luallen leveled several criticisms, raising questions in areas ranging from the agency's governance structure to perceived excessive expenditures for lobbying, travel and meals by former employees. Her report raised concerns the state might cancel its $800 million contract with Passport.

Interim CEO Mark Carter shared a progress report he had sent to Luallen in which he addressed her criticisms of Passport. The response, he said, showed that the organization is being responsive to the concerns and is poised to improve its relationship with the state. He assured the board that Passport is still strong.

"You can be confident the work is being done on a daily basis," he told the trustees, adding that Passport's service "is something you can be proud of."

 Trustee Salem George, a physician from Lebanon, Ky., called Passport a "strong and needed program" and urged the state to continue funding it.

Also at the meeting, the Personnel Committee:

  • approved a revision to the university's Temporary Medical Benefits Program that will provide up to three months of continuing health benefits for staff employees who become disabled after completing 12 months of continuous service.
  • approved changes to the Redbook personnel documents for the Kent School of Social Work and the Speed School of Engineering
  • approved the continuation of Charles Moyer as dean of the College of Business for a five-year period.

The trustees also recognized the UofL men's soccer team for its national runner-up finish this season.

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