• Technology
  • Does the DPI tech center still have the backing of these universities?

    UChicago and Northwestern—both originally touted as collaborators with U of I in a South Loop initiative that promises to transform Chicago tech—have ghosted the project.

    Alamy

    Northwestern University says in a statement that it has yet to “formalize our participation in DPI,” despite some discussions between the universities’ administrators and faculty.

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    When University of Illinois President Tim Killeen came up to Chicago in 2017 to unveil a proposal for his school's new South Loop research center, he gathered at the site that the University of Chicago and Northwestern University would be "inaugural partners."

    But this February, when he returned to the same location for another press conference announcing state funding of $235 million for that 500,000-square-foot , the two prominent private schools were barely mentioned, and neither have a formal relationship with DPI, despite being listed on the DPI website.

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    79彩票注册网址The research center had been billed as a way to bring together the downstate public university's STEM firepower and the academic cachet of the two private schools, both ranked among the nation's top 20 universities. The idea was that they'd collaborate with each other and companies on applied research with a goal of boosting Chicago's economy and retaining Illinois students.

    The private schools' involvement matters because development of the center won't be cheap and attracting company participation won't necessarily be easy. Killeen cobbled together $500 million in university money that isn't from the state on Pritzker's urging79彩票注册网址, but DPI partners have provided little support, leaving it up to cash-strapped Illinois and its universities to shoulder the risk of DPI living up to its promise.

    79彩票注册网址Northwestern says in a statement that it has yet to "formalize our participation in DPI," despite some discussions between the universities' administrators and faculty. Bruce Layton, Northwestern's special assistant to the president, was in the crowd in 2017 and recognized by Killeen, but now he's not willing to discuss involvement with DPI for at least six months to a year, he says.

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    ?Discovering partners

    The Discovery Partners Institute is sourcing partners from all over the world.

    DPI PARTNERS

    Argonne National Laboratory


    79彩票注册网址Lemont Cardiff University, Wales, U.K.


    University of Chicago*


    79彩票注册网址Hebrew University of Jerusalem


    79彩票注册网址University of Illinois at Chicago


    University of Illinois at Springfield


    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


    Illinois Institute of Technology


    79彩票注册网址MS Ramaiah Medical College, Karnataka, India


    National Taiwan University, Taipei


    79彩票注册网址Northwestern University*


    Tel Aviv University

    *No formal agreement
    Sources: DPI website, Crain’s reporting

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    "This is a conversation for the future because the relationship lies in the future," Layton says in an email. "DPI has only just drafted its business plan. They have yet to build their building. They have a new director. Northwestern has a new (interim) vice president for research, and the two have yet to meet, although they will meet soon. Conversations up to now have been mostly academic. No money has been discussed."

    Former University of Chicago senior adviser John Flavin was also recognized at the 2017 press conference, but he has since left the university, and the school declines to make anyone available for an interview on the topic. A spokesman for the school says there are ongoing conversations, but no formal agreement. "The DPI represents an exciting initiative that will be important for UIUC and the city, and we look forward to playing a collaborative role as planning continues," says spokesman Jeremy Manier.

    It's not clear what's causing the private schools' reticence, but it might have something to do with the political landscape changing since former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner hatched DPI along with former Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In February, it was Mayor Lori Lightfoot who stood by Pritzker in the latest push for DPI.

    The state's other public schools took on increasing importance under Pritzker, with DPI playing up their roles now in the related Illinois Innovation Network. Aside from those schools, only the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bronzeville and a random smattering of international schools are involved.

    Killeen, who leads the University of Illinois System, an umbrella organization for campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, says DPI is a work in progress. "DPI and the IIN are in close contact with their many partners as the initiative's momentum grows," Killeen says through a spokesman. "We'll be convening the leadership of the partner institutions soon."

    VYING FOR STUDENTS

    79彩票注册网址The arm's-length embrace may also be tied to the increasingly competitive higher education environment. With the pool of high school graduates shrinking nationwide and states reducing allocations to universities significantly over the past two decades, schools are vying to attract students, research funding and donor dollars.

    "Very often, inter-institutional cooperation is difficult," says James Palmer, who is a professor at Illinois State University's College of Education and editor of the Grapevine, a higher education publication associated with the school's Center for the Study of Education Policy. "We tend to be in a competitive environment right now, especially for students," he adds, noting that he doesn't know details of the DPI partnerships.

    On the very day in 2017 when Killeen announced that U of I was spearheading DPI, the University of Chicago had its own announcement just a few miles away in Hyde Park, saying it would join with UIUC in an expansion of its Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation in "developing and commercializing groundbreaking technology."

    The University of Chicago also announced that year that it was teaming with UIUC as well as Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab in the development of the Chicago Quantum Exchange79彩票注册网址 to study quantum physics and bid for federal funding.

    Similarly, Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine last year opened a billion-dollar Streeterville biomedical research center, which it expects will increase research funding by $150 million annually within 10 years.

    Pritzker aims to fashion DPI after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kendall Square Initiative, but that facility is backed by the big bucks of a private university. It has also attracted corporate sponsors, , which two years ago agreed to lease 100,000 square feet of space there.

    "This kind of interdisciplinary tech research is hot these days," says William & Mary economics professor David Feldman, whose research has focused on higher education. "Faculty can be tempted to work on a company's problems if they get a share of the revenue stream. And universities are even more tempted because patents can play a big role in university revenue. Universities have been working for years to create a framework for determining ownership of ideas (between the institution and the faculty researchers), but the legal landscape here is still not fully mapped. That's a potential barrier for corporate involvement."

    So far, DPI on its own hasn't announced any corporate partners, and cannibalizing companies from the expansive University of Illinois Research Park in Urbana-Champaign isn't part of the plan.

    79彩票注册网址Elsewhere, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin at Madison was initiated in 2004 and has grown with from former Cisco Systems CEO John Morgridge and his wife, Tashia, who both attended the school.

    University of Illinois System Board Chairman Don Edwards, a UIUC graduate, tried to jump-start alumni giving for DPI with a $10 million donation last month and says he'll be calling on other Chicago business leaders for more support.

    Adding the financial wherewithal of the University of Chicago and Northwestern might help, too.

    James Palmer's title has been corrected.

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