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Chairman of Salk


Return to Salk, as Chairman
Renato Dulbecco Scientist
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Then there was an important event, which interrupted everything which was that the chairman at the Salk Institute, who had been chairman already for about ten years and who also had developed AIDS, became very ill and they didn't know what to do at the institute, because he could no longer work as chairman. They called me asking if I could come and be chairman even temporarily, even just for a few months so that they would have time to look for another chairman to succeed the previous one who was very ill. But I thought, in fact, I felt that I owed something to the Salk Institute, so I thought that, yes, if I could help at such a critical time, then I should do that, so I returned, I left AIDS and Basel and returned there, so a new career then began for me because I had the idea that I would be there at least six months, but in fact, I was there for almost five years. Because the situation, from the point of view of the institute, was an antagonism between the chairman and the faculty. The chairman didn't understand the faculty, they couldn't agree and therefore things were going badly, several of the researchers already had received offers and were considering them ready to leave when I arrived.

So, my main task before anything else was to convince these people to stay and then to give the institute, to give the faculty the powers that they didn't have previously and that should have been there, which was to be part of the most important decisions, for these not to be left exclusively up to the board of directors and the chairman.

[Q] So, a degree of freedom and also autonomy.

Certainly, exactly. And this... the board of directors that there was then understood, luckily, had understood the situation and agreed with this, so we restructured the entire organisational structure of the institute. We constructed a council within the faculty that was called the 'Academic Council', elected by all the members of the faculty for periods that were not too long, with rotations... a system of flow, but which represented the entire faculty. And this pleased the faculty, so everyone withdrew their resignations and stayed there. And from then on the institute has been doing much better.

Poi c'è stato un avvenimento importante, che ha interrotto tutto ed è questo che, all'istituto Salk, c'era il presidente, che era stato presidente già da una diecina d'anni, e che anche lui ha sviluppato l'AIDS, per cui era diventato molto ammalato e lì all'istituto non sapevano come fare, perché lui come presidente non funzionava più, e allora mi hanno telefonato dicendomi se potevo venire a fare il presidente magari temporaneamente, magari per un periodo di alcuni mesi così in maniera da avere tempo per cercare un altro presidente per succedere a questo qui che era ammalato. Ma io ho pensato, insomma, sentivo che dovevo qualche cosa all'istituto Salk, perciò ho pensato che, sì, se posso essere di aiuto in un periodo così critico, lo dovevo fare, per cui sono ritornato, ho lasciato lì l'AIDS e Basilea e sono ritornato lì, per cui lì è cominciata adesso una nuova carriera, perché io ero con l'idea che sarei stato magari sei mesi, ma infatti ci sono stato quasi cinque anni, capisci? Perché, insomma la situazione, dal punto di vista dell'istituto, era un antagonismo tra il presidente e la facoltà. Il presidente non capiva bene la facoltà, non potevano andare d'accordo e perciò le cose andavano male, parecchi dei maggiori ricercatori già avevano ricevuto offerte e le consideravano pronti a partire quando sono arrivato lì.

Per cui, questo è stato il mio compito principale, prima di tutto quello di convincere questa gente a rimanere e poi di dare al l'istituto, alla facoltà dei poteri che non avevano e che dovrebbe avere, cioè di essere parte delle decisioni più importanti, non che siano esclusivamente del consiglio di amministrazione e del presidente.

[Q] Direi, una libertà e anche una certa autonomia.

Certo, esattamente. E questo... il consiglio di amministrazione che c'era allora ha capito, per fortuna, ha capito bene la situazione ed è stato d'accordo su questo, per cui abbiamo ristrutturato tutta la struttura organizzativa dell'istituto. Abbiamo costruito un consiglio nella facoltà, che era chiamato l'Academic Council, il consiglio accademico, eletto da tutti i membri della facoltà con periodi non troppo lunghi, con rotazioni, insomma... un sistema di flusso, ma che rappresentava tutta la facoltà. E questo è piaciuto molto naturalmente alla facoltà, per cui tutti hanno ritirato le loro partenze e sono rimasti tutti lì. E da allora, l'istituto è andato avanti molto bene.

The Italian biologist Renato Dulbecco (1914-2012) had early success isolating a mutant of the polio virus which was used to create a life-saving vaccine. Later in his career, he initiated the Human Genome Project and was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975 for furthering our understanding of cancer caused by viruses.

Listeners: Paola De Paoli Marchetti

Paola De Paoli Marchetti is a science journalist who graduated with an honours degree in foreign languages and literature from the University Ca’Foscari, Venice. She has been a science journalist since the 1960s and has been on the staff of the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore since 1970. She was elected president of UGIS (Italian Association of Science Journalists) in 1984. She has been a Member of the Board of EUSJA (European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations, Strasbourg), and was its president in 1987-1988 and 1998-2000. In May 2000 she was unanimously elected president emeritus. She was a member of the National Council of Italian Journalists (1992-1998). From 2002 to 2004 she was member of the working group for scientific communication of the National Committee for Biotechnology. She has also been a consultant at the Italian Ministry of Research and Technology and editor-in-chief of the publication MRST, policy of science and technology. She has co-authored many publications in the field of scientific information, including Le biotecnologie in Italia, Le piste della ricerca and Luna vent’anni dopo.

Tags: Salk Institute

Duration: 3 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008