The same man in charge for decades: “ownership” of elite scientific centers Sciences

Ironically, some of Spain's leading scientific centers are governed by a very old regime: the same man in charge for decades. the doctor Bonaventura Clotet He has directed the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research since its establishment 29 years ago in Badalona. Material or physical Pedro Miguel Echenique He has headed the Donostia International Center for Physics since day one, a quarter of a century ago. Chemist Eugenio Coronado rules…

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Ironically, some of Spain's leading scientific centers are governed by a very old regime: the same man in charge for decades. the doctor Bonaventura Clotet He has directed the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research since its establishment 29 years ago in Badalona. Material or physical Pedro Miguel Echenique He has headed the Donostia International Center for Physics since day one, a quarter of a century ago. Chemist Eugenio Coronado has run the Institute of Molecular Sciences in Valencia since its opening. 24 years ago. And they are no exceptions. Some of the most innovative centers have reinvented a type of ownership.

Chemistry Laura LechugaMany of these centers were created at the edge of the 21st century, with eminent scientists at the helm, the 61-year-old recalls. “The problem is that they never took into account the length of the term of the same director. This led to the fact that, in practice, there is no change at all in directors, and the majority of them remain in office for 15-20, even 30 years,” reflects Lechuga, group leader at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience. and nanotechnology in Barcelona. “The worst effect of these eternal mandates is the lack of female directors. I would say that only 1% or 2% of these centers are run or managed by a woman. In the 21st century. “It is unbelievable,” laments the award-winning chemist. National Research Award In 2020.

The data is revealing. biology Marga Nadal Three years ago, she was the sole director of the 41 Research Centers of Catalonia (CERCA), the state's bodies of excellence. It was 2%. Nadal, who is in charge of the Girona Biomedical Research Institute, explains that these centers are governed by boards of trustees made up of politicians and senior officials from hospitals and universities. They are the ones who choose the director. “They can fire me tomorrow or they can fire me in 20 years, it's just that,” Nadal sums up, in favor of setting four- or five-year renewable terms for a large number of people. “Staying there for more than 10 years is bad. Staying for more than three years can also be bad. If you don’t have a business, go home. You have to go, don’t wait for them to kick you out,” he says.

The man who has been running the CERCA centers since 2011 is a biologist Luis RoviraHe raised eyebrows with some statements on February 1. “My experience is that directors often… [hombres] “They are tyrannical and have very strong egos, although you also find some friendly people with whom you can talk normally,” he said. In an interview With diaries Pont Ave. The Catalan government's Minister of Research and Universities, Joaquim Nadal, fired Rovira on February 15 to “give a boost to the institution,” CERCA sources confirmed to this newspaper. A ministry spokesman explained that the decision was actually planned and had nothing to do with criticizing the alleged tyranny of some managers. Rovira, a supporter of the rotation, refused to speak with El Pais newspaper.

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Material or physical Lewis Turner He explains that he was the only one who founded the now leading Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), in Castelldefels, Barcelona, ​​in 2002. He has been in charge for 22 years, but believes that “this institute should not last forever” and asked for its pledge. Replaced months ago. “I started alone. ICFO had only one person. I was the director and directed myself. Now we are 450,” he celebrates. Turner rejects indefinite positions, but supports long stays in centers under construction, up to 30 years if there are periodic evaluations , as in his case happened every four years. “For example, without needing to compare, it is as if Columbus’s expedition went to Cuba and they changed the commander in the Azores. And what the Greeks did, if their commander did not act in the battles against the Persians, is He was liquidated upon his return to Athens, but not on the way.” Material or physical Oriol Romero-Izart42, will be the new manager effective September 1, Turner confirmed.

Physicist Lewis Turner, front row in blue tie, with his team from the Institute of Photonic Sciences, in Castelldefels, in 2014.ICFO

Some recent changes in these centers of excellence demonstrate the continuity of positions. Civil engineer Eugenio Onati In 2022, he left the management of the International Center for Numerical Methods in Engineering in Barcelona, After 35 years Command. the doctor Louis Blanche He is waiting to be replaced at the Park Tauli Research and Innovation Institute in Sabadell, after 21 years as director. The vast majority of eternal leaders are men, but there are exceptions. Director of Geography, Ana Capri, Center for Demographic Studies in Barcelona For 30 yearsSince its inception in 1984. “We now have seven directors in 42 centres [el 17%]. “We worked hard to get more women to apply,” explained the same CERCA sources.

biology Emilio Palomares Three years ago, he took the reins at the Catalan Institute for Chemical Research, in Tarragona, “making a 180-degree turnaround,” after two decades as head of the institute. Mikel Pericas, institution. Palomares warns of the danger of eternal driving. “When you are in a management position for a long time, you end up thinking that everything was thanks to you and you become a prostitute. This happens in scientific centers as well as in politics or business. “It is humane,” reflects Palomares, who promised in writing to remain in his position For a maximum of two terms of five years each.

We must avoid excessive personalism that may harm the organization.

Carmen Vela, former Secretary of State for Research, Development and Innovation

One of the most famous permanent leaders is Paco SanchezFounder of the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands In 1975 And its director for 38 years. Biochemistry Carmen VelaThe head of science in Mariano Rajoy's government made the decision to look for an alternative. “We promoted the change, because Paco was no longer there for his whole life, he had become the telescope,” he recalls. Villa calls on us not to make unfair judgements. “In some cases, we have to avoid excessive personality that can harm the organization, but in most cases I know, the manager and the organization work very well,” he says.

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Engineer Mateo Valero has managed the Barcelona Supercomputing Center since its inception 20 years ago. Cardiologist Valentin Foster has been leading the National Center for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid for 15 years. Villa, the former president of the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists, confirms that there are female scientists who are “well prepared” to occupy positions managing this type of institute, but she believes that the inevitable change between generations should not be forced. “These centers are excellent, they are international standards. I think of Pedro Miguel Echenique, Mateo Valero, Valentin Foster, Louis Turner… They are people so completely out of the ordinary, bordering on the exceptional, that I don't think we should intervene, but I would like to put forward This issue is on the table. It is a table for them to consider. Vela says: “I will not over-intervene.”

Doctor Anthony Fauci received a standing ovation upon his retirement, after 38 years at the helm of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in Bethesda (USA).National Institutes of Health (LK Images)

Asked whether it is considering limiting the mandates of directors, the Ministry of Science, headed by Diana Morant, only answers that, in addition to duration, we must take into account the quality of the research and “results based on the defined objectives.” A spokesperson for the Catalan Ministry explains that there are no regulatory changes on the horizon. “The Science Law of Catalonia, in force since last year, does not place jurisdictional restrictions on the directorates of CERCA centers in which the public mandate participates. It confirms that the guidelines are consistent with the boards of trustees or management boards of each centre. The pictures are eloquent. Six research centers have been created Outstanding in 2015 Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology To promote a joint project. The twenty distinguished members of its board of directors were men. Nearly a decade later, they are 19 men and three women.

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the doctor Bonaventura Clotet The year 1981 coincided with the first case of AIDS in Spain and he decided to devote his life to this disease, which has claimed lives ever since. More than 40 million people In the world. “This started as a personal project. I managed to convince the federal government and, with the help of the La Caixa Foundation, we created the first retrovirus laboratory in Catalonia. “We started with four people and now we have 120 people,” recalls the expert, who has been running the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research since in 1995, and receives periodic audits. “We are constantly evaluated and this is non-negotiable. “No one should stay in bed forever,” he points out.

Can you be a director for that long without creating bad habits and practices?

Laura Lechuga, chemist

Clotet confirms that the situation is similar in organizations in other countries. The famous American doctor Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 38 years, resigned in 2022, stating that he had worked… For seven presidentsFrom Ronald Reagan to Joe Biden. In Clotet's opinion, the main thing for a director is to present ideas, give “absolute independence” to his researchers and promote the best, and maintain gender equality. He confirms that there are 60% women in IrsiCaixa.

“The internal management of a big team requires a leader. This is like football coaches in very good teams: the most complex problem is managing egos.” “We are the most important group in Spain in the field of infectious disease and immunology research. I think the project was very beneficial for the country. “When I can't contribute anything, I won't continue,” says Clotet, who continues to work “with strength and energy.”

Examples are found throughout Spain. Microbiologist Eugenio Santos Just Leave the address Cancer Research Center of Salamanca, after 25 years in power. Chemist José María Matto has directed the Center for Collaborative Research in Biosciences (CIC bioGUNE) since its establishment 19 years ago in Greater Bilbao. Material or physical Rodolfo Miranda He was responsible for the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Nanoscience for 17 years. Biochemistry Maria LewisThe director of the Agricultural Economics Research Center for only two years believes that “the plan for support measures during orientation and after leaving” would make the position more attractive, increase the number of candidates and facilitate exits. “The more rotation, the more diversity,” he says.

Chemist Laura Lechuga highlights that administrative duties at the CSIC last for four years and can be renewed. It may be university presidents A maximum of six years, not extendable. “No matter how good scientists and managers choose for managerial positions,” asks Lechuga, who is also a researcher at CSIC, “can one remain a manager for a long time without creating bad habits and practices?” “This usually leads, obviously, to very unhealthy dynamics within the centres, which ultimately leads to them becoming veritable kingdoms or beach bars for the manager on duty. “Given the power that these managers amass, they can, according to their sole criteria, manage Multi-million dollar budgets, space distribution, positions, layoffs, and infrastructure.”

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