Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

University Of Florida Wants $2 Million Research Prize Won By Professors

Chronicle of Higher Education, ‘It Felt Like a Betrayal’: Researchers Won a $2-Million Prize. The University Wants to Take It.:

Florida (2020)October 24 should have been a great day for John M. Shea and Tan F. Wong, professors of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Florida.

The day before, after three years, their team — which includes three Ph.D. students and an undergraduate — won the $2-million grand prize in an artificial-intelligence competition, beating out more than 100 teams from around the world.

The message that day from the administration, however, was far from congratulatory.

“Please understand that if Shea and Wong convert university funds to personal funds,” stated the email from a university lawyer to a lawyer representing the university’s faculty union, “they will be subject to personnel action and possibly other more serious consequences.”

The battle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contest was over. But the team had another fight, this one with its own university. Who gets to keep the prize money?

“We put our blood and sweat into this — working 14- or 16-hour days sometimes,” says David Greene, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering who works on artificial intelligence and communications for radio designs and is a member of the research team, GatorWings. “The university is basically setting a precedent that any cash prizes in any competition, whether they’re to students or faculty, will be owned by the university.”

The union representing the university’s faculty has filed two unfair-labor-practice complaints with the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission, asserting that the university violated state law when setting its policy on prizes without bargaining over a matter that changed union members’ terms and conditions of employment.

The union wants the college to stop enforcing its policy, make the two professors on the team “whole … with compound interest,” and pay the union “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.” ...

“For as long as anybody knows at the University of Florida,” says Eric Lindstrom, a lawyer for the United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents faculty members and graduate assistants on the campus, “faculty have always been allowed to keep money that is awarded to them through their scholarly work.” ...

Many of the research universities contacted by The Chronicle stated that they don’t have a policy specifically governing external prize money for scholarly work. The University of Iowa, for example, said it would review a competition’s terms to see what university policies might apply.

None of the universities told The Chronicle that it would require scholars to turn over prize money. “Absent any unique circumstances,” wrote Dan Gilchrist, a spokesman for the University of Minnesota, the institution “would not claim monetary awards associated with a prize in recognition of faculty or other employee or student achievement.”

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


According to 3.2.4 "Awarding Prizes" of the DARPA SC2 official rules,

Prizes awarded under the SC2 (PE1, PE2 and SCE) will be paid by electronic funds transfer to the bank account specified by the leader of the team determined by DARPA to be the winners of each tournament. If the winner is a team, it is the responsibility of the team leader, not DARPA, to determine the subsequent division of any prize money.

Prizes awarded may be subject to Federal income taxes. DARPA will comply with the Internal Revenue Service withholding and reporting requirements, where applicable. The winner must provide DARPA with an appropriate U.S. taxpayer identification number (TIN) (e.g., social security number, employer identification number, etc.) within 72 hours of the announcement of the prizes. Information on how to obtain a TIN is available on the U.S. Internal Revenue Service website at The winner should consult a tax advisor to ensure that the prize money is handled properly and reported accurately for tax purposes.

You can find the document here,

Posted by: Dave | Nov 20, 2019 1:27:52 PM

It's not like patent assigned to employers. There's nothing in faculty contract that stipulates anything like turning over prize money to the university. It's not like a research grant or a patent agreement. I doubt UF's case would hold up in court. Sods to me like greedy administrators, the real power in universities these days.

Posted by: Curious Mayhem | Nov 19, 2019 9:40:43 PM

There is a big difference between the faculty team members and the students.

Posted by: Tom Liefenfal | Nov 19, 2019 7:04:44 PM

This is common in the corporate world. You get access to all their corporate stuff, do your work on corporate time, and guess what? Your work and any money from your work belongs to corporate.

If they're nice, corporate will give you a plaque and maybe some bonus money, like $10-100 dollars.

Use their stuff. Use their time. Use their name. It belongs to them, not you...

Posted by: Beans | Nov 19, 2019 6:18:19 PM

There's a difference between a Nobel (taxable to the individual recipient, at least in the USA!), and a research prize that could be used to support research. Was this award to the U Fl professors taxable to them (strong argument that it is theirs alone) or additional research funding that they could use for their research (potential argument that U Fl could get a cut for overhead).

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Nov 19, 2019 8:20:21 AM

What, pray tell, would the U of FL do about a Nobel Prize? I never heard of any US university requesting that the winner of a Nobel cough up the money.

Posted by: Bill | Nov 19, 2019 6:41:29 AM

Devil’s advocating here... is this any different from developing a patent while working for an employer? It’d be a whole lot wiser to allow the employment contracts to require a 50-50 (or 51-49) split of ownership and income.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 19, 2019 6:37:50 AM