Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing that the state invest $30 million in the University of Minnesota Medical School in hopes of re-establishing its national prominence by restoring lost tenured faculty members.
Dayton, flanked by students at the U Medical School, announced the plan as part of his full budget, expected to be revealed next week. The money would pay for 50 research faculty members over the course of eight years, improving research and attracting the best and brightest students.
Dayton said the proposed $30 million — $5 million next year and $25 million in 2017 — would be only a start. He would encourage the Legislature to invest another $50 million in the medical school per biennium for the next decade.
"It needs to be a long-term commitment," he said. "They know there's a long-term commitment to build these teams of excellence. … if we can do this we'll have the resources to be world-competitive."
The medical school, which ranked in the top 15 in National Institutes of Health funding in the 1970s and '80s, since has dropped to 30th nationally and 12th among public medical schools — which resulted in a drop in NIH funding. Officials blame the drop on the loss of 90 tenured and tenure-track faculty from 1995-2001. U Medical School Dean Dr. Brooks Jackson said restoring the faculty could boost Minnesota's ranking from 30th to 20th in as little as five years.
"If we can demonstrate success with this model, if it has been a good investment, then I think we will come back to the state and ask for more money, and get literally in the top five or 10," Jackson said.
He said the school is carefully reviewing what research would be the focus of the new teams.
"We want to do this very carefully to make sure this investment really pays off," he said, adding that chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer could be on the table for consideration. "There are a number of areas we'll be looking at, but we want to make sure these will be highly impactful areas and we will be world-class in these areas. We will become the leaders in these areas, that is the intention."
Dayton said the money would bolster the quality of the medical school, which now supplies 70 percent of the state's medical professionals. It also is intended to address an expected shortage of 850 doctors in the state by 2024. What's more, the investment brings the promise of economic benefits thanks to highly skilled workers.
"The caliber of innovators, researchers, doctors, scientists will be drawn to this area, all their families and contributions will emanate from here," Dayton said. "If you look at what this could become, it really is phenomenal."