When Dr. Norman Block got the news in May 2012, he was incredulous. The Nobel Laureate he'd brought to the University of Miami to work on cancer research -- a groundbreaking drug researcher named Andrew Schally -- would lose $150,000 in funding. Schally would have to lay off two researchers and halt some studies. It was all part of a drastic cutback in UM research funding as the Miller School of Medicine confronted a massive $18 million budget deficit last year. The school insisted it would find money for Schally and promised to scrounge up $3.8 million to keep his work afloat, but Block, his clinical director, was skeptical. "Let's be polite and say the numbers are not accurate," he told the Miami Herald at the time.
The full truth turned out to be even worse than Block had feared. By August, UM had chopped Block's salary by 10 percent. What's more, Block says, the school began improperly dipping into a $1 million endowment that he controlled for prostate research. Block is now suing the school for breaking the wishes of the prostate cancer patient who left the money to UM.
UM spokeswoman Margot Winick declined to comment on his new allegations, made in a civil suit filed last week in Miami-Dade circuit court. "It's against our policy to comment on personnel matters, so I have to leave it at that," she says. (Douglas Reynolds, Block's attorney, declined to comment on the suit.)
But the case is likely to add another chink in the armor of UM's medical school, which has been reeling for more than a year from the budget crisis.
The $1 million at the heart of the dispute as given to UM in 1981 by L. Austin Weeks, a philanthropist who later died from prostate cancer. He left the money "to enhance the research being conducted at the University of Miami School of Medicine in the field of prostate cancer" and asked that it be used to support a chairholder and a research position, as well as help incorporate hormonal studies and increase an animal research colony.
Weeks recommended his own doctor -- Block, a renowned urologist -- as the first chairholder. Block has held that chair ever since and has used the gift to help UM become a leader in the field through innovative studies and hires including Schally, a 1977 Nobel winner.
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All of that fell apart in August, Block says. That's when -- in addition to learning about the cuts to his own funding -- he discovered the school had disbursed $441,723.24 from the endowment without his consent. (The suit doesn't specify where that money went.)
Whatever the result, the suit isn't likely to help the med school's already-battered image.