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September 18, 2003

Washington U. buys research arm of school for deaf

From: St. Louis Dispatch, MO - Sept 18, 2003

By Jack Naudi Post-Dispatch

Washington University has bought the research arm of Central Institute for the Deaf, along with the building housing the institute.

The move gives new life to the 89-year-old institute and its research programs, all of which were threatened by financial difficulties. It also creates a formal bond between the two institutions, which have long collaborated on research and education.

Under the arrangement announced Thursday, Washington University's School of Medicine will acquire the adjacent institute's building and land and agreed to lease the property back to the institute in a deal valued at $32 million. In addition, the School of Medicine will acquire the institute's hearing research, adult clinical care and advanced degree programs.

All institute employees in those programs, including eight researchers and two instructors, will be switched to Washington University's payroll.

Central Institute for the Deaf will maintain its respected preschool and primary school, with a combined 44 students.

The institute also retains the Joanne Parrish Knight Family Center, a counseling and education program for parents, and the institute's Outreach Center, which provides mainstream assistance for hearing-impaired children.

"Our missions will be carried out very much in the same way and in the physical space as they have been," said Robert Clark, executive director of the institute, and the founder, chairman and chief executive of Clayco Construction Co. "It's going to be very transparent to the people that we serve."

Clark has run the institute since May 2002 in an unpaid role. He expects to begin a search soon for a full-time, paid director.

Dr. Richard Chole, who chairs Washington University's department of otolaryngology, said the decision to take on a portion of Central Institute for the Deaf was necessary.

"As far as I was concerned, I would prefer to leave things as they were, because I wouldn't have the extra management responsibility. But the alternative would be to let it die," Chole said.

With the addition of the institute's eight researchers, Washington University's otolaryngology research program will become the largest in the nation.

There will be some subtle changes in the institute programs taken over by the university, Chole said.

The 55 students in Central Institute for the Deaf's professional development program will get their degrees from Washington University's School of Medicine. In the past, degrees were conferred by the university's School of Arts & Sciences.

The research department will be run "leaner and meaner," Chole said. "There are cultural changes, because that was an independent institute and this is a big university."

On the other hand, Chole expects that with Washington University in control, more grant money could be generated in areas formerly under the institute.

The institute's research, much of which centers on nerve regeneration, will continue, Chole said. A $7.8 million endowment for institute research has been transferred to Washington University.

Since its founding in 1914, Central Institute for the Deaf has emphasized oral education, in which students are taught to speak and read lips. Washington University will continue to support that tradition, Chole said. That philosophy is at odds with one encouraging hearing impaired people to communicate only through sign language.

The university and the institute have long worked closely together. But it took serious financial trouble to bring about the sale.

Despite raising more than $30 million in a capital campaign that ended last December, "our operating budget was suffering," Clark said.

The institute's general endowment has fallen about 25 percent during the stock market's three-year decline to about $30 million, and was not large enough to help support the institute's former annual budget of $10 million, Clark said. But it should be adequate for the new $4 million-a-year budget, he said.

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