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FSU to return $11-million to chemist

Associated Press
Published January 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - In a bid to end a dispute over a new chemistry building, Florida State University plans to return gifts totaling $11-million, plus interest, to a professor acclaimed for developing a lifesaving synthetic cancer drug, the school said Wednesday.

Robert Holton's MDS Research Foundation donated the money with conditions that the building focus heavily on his specialty, synthetic organic chemistry.

The foundation sued the university last year after FSU president T.K. Wetherell decided instead to construct a general chemistry building costing more than $55-million. University officials say Holton's vision was too expensive; it would cost about twice that amount, including endowed faculty chairs and research expenses.

"No professor has the right to create a shrine to his own research area with public funds," Wetherell said in the university's statement.

The offer to return MDS donations of $6-million given in 1999 and $5-million in 2002 will not be accepted, nor will it end the lawsuit seeking to enforce requirements attached to the gifts, said foundation president Mike Devine.

"Returning half a loaf is not good enough," Holton said in a statement. "Our goal was to do something world class, and it turned into something mediocre."

MDS and Holton contend that if Florida State is allowed to ignore the donor agreements it also must return $18.5-million earmarked for the building to a laboratory fund established from $210-million in royalties the school has received from the cancer drug Holton developed, synthetic Taxol.

"That's university money," said Books Keel, Florida State's associate vice president for research. Holton earned $140-million from his innovation and used part of it to set up the foundation.

A judge last month sent the lawsuit into mediation. Until Wednesday, Florida State officials had argued that Holton was entitled at best to return of the $5-million 2002 contribution because the 1999 agreement accompanying the $6-million donation lacks specific requirements.

[Last modified January 12, 2006, 01:21:24]

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