Criticism of troubled project caused outcry
By Gadi Dechter
Originally published August 5, 2006
The Johns Hopkins University apologized this week to the Singapore government, two weeks after a university spokesman's criticism of that country's science agency - essentially blaming it for the failure of a Hopkins-Singapore medical research partnership - sparked an outcry in the Asian media.
"Johns Hopkins had no intention to impugn the reputation and standing of [Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research] and Singapore, and any such impression is regretted," said the university in a statement issued jointly with the Singapore science agency on Thursday.
The dispute became public when a Singapore newspaper reported July 22 about the impending closure of the Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore, eight years after the launch of the ambitious medical education and research partnership.
The Straits Times newspaper quoted an unnamed Hopkins spokesman who said the break-up would create a "reputational issue" for Singapore's science agency, which had not met its "financial and education" obligations in the partnership.
That article prompted a scathing letter to the editor by Andre Wan, an official of the science agency known as A*STAR, who took umbrage at the university's apparent insinuation that Singapore was the negligent partner.
Wan said that Hopkins had failed for years to recruit enough senior researchers or doctoral students to the Singapore-based division of the Baltimore medical school, and that was the reason his government had decided to stop funding the project.
"We cannot justify the continuation of public funding for a collaboration that has failed to yield results for Singapore," Wan said, adding: "It is ... most surprising that [Johns Hopkins University] should choose to lecture A*STAR and the people of Singapore about our reputation when it is [Hopkins] which has not delivered on its commitments."
Singapore has invested more than $80 million in the collaboration since it launched in 1998, Wan said.
In exchange for the funding, he said, Hopkins was expected to meet certain "key performance indicators," including the enrollment of at least eight doctoral students by February of this year. But as of late 2005, there were no doctoral students enrolled in the division, he said.
Hopkins also committed to recruiting a dozen "senior investigators with international reputations," who would live full time in Singapore, according to Wan. In his letter to the Straits Times, he said only one of 13 researchers working at the Hopkins-run program in February of this year satisfied Singapore's definition of "senior investigator."
Thursday's joint statement did not address Wan's claims that Hopkins had failed to attract sufficient research talent to Singapore, except to say, "Johns Hopkins recognizes that there were differences with A*STAR over the progress of the [Division of Johns Hopkins in Singapore] research and education programs."
Johns Hopkins Medicine spokesman Gary Stephenson said yesterday that the university would not comment further on the matter.
"We're not going to inject life into this situation through the media," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Singapore Embassy in Washington said yesterday that tensions between the Baltimore university and Singapore have eased, noting that a Hopkins-managed hospital in Singapore is still "chugging along quite nicely," as is a collaboration between Hopkins' Peabody Institute and the Singapore Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore.
"I suppose ties are still pretty good," said Lynette Cheng. "It was just one project."