Universities Space Research Association (USRA)

Despite recent reports to the contrary, Morgan State University’s largest research contract in school history is not in any imminent danger of being revoked or restricted.

“From the tone and specificity of the issues outlined in the USRA letter, it appears Morgan is confronting a raft of federal complaints regarding virtually every aspect of its administration of the program,” read a commentary in the Baltimore Sun published June 30. “Unless something dramatic changes, the school will either have the program’s funds revoked or the award won’t be renewed when the current agreement expires,” it continued.

The commentary refers to a $28.5 million research contract awarded to Morgan State University by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in May of 2011. USRA is a subcontractor of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Marylan
d. The contract is scheduled to be renewed at the end of five years.

The USRA sent a letter to Morgan State – which in 2006 became a research institution with a Carnegie Classification – in March of 2014 outlining various issues they had with Morgan’s administration of the contract.

“Performance issues include, but are not limited to, failure to make transfers of researchers to MSU in a reasonably timely manner, hiring and reporting delays, slow response to requests for corrections to performance problems, and lack of plan to engage more students in research related to Goddard,” wrote Patricia Artimovich, director of Contracts and Compliance with the USRA in a segment of her letter to Morgan.

According to Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson, all the issues outlined by the USRA are being addressed by the school.

Morgan State University

“We have addressed the concerns raised in the letter from the USRA and we did get a letter back from the USRA indicating that they were pleased with the approach that we are taking,” said Dr. Wilson.

According to Wilson, a significant Information Technology (IT) issue has been resolved, additional staff has been hired, 10 students are now interning at NASA and additional training is taking place to resolve the grievances.

“Pleased,” may not be a fully accurate depiction of the USRA’s disposition in reference to Morgan’s administration of the multi-million dollar contract. But, it seems clear the organization believes the university is on track to fully remedy the concerns outlined in that March letter and the contract – despite the assertions of some – was never in any real jeopardy.

“I don’t think we were ever at the point where we thought that (termination) was a serious consideration,” said Donald Kniffen, president and CEO of Universities Space Research Association.

“If there had been no move to correct the problems that might have been on the table, but there has been considerable effort to try to solve the problem…to address the residual issues. There’s still a long ways to go and we’re working together with them (Morgan) to complete that process well in advance of the time when this contract comes to an end,” Kniffen added.

Dr. Wilson, whose tenure as president began July 1, 2010, pledged among other things to double the number of research contracts and grants to the university in 10 years. The acquisition of the USRA contract is a significant step in that direction, yet Wilson acknowledges Morgan is still in the “embryonic stages” of being a nationally recognized research institution.

“Johns Hopkins receives more federal grant contracts in one year than all of the HBCU’s combined. It just shows that there needs to be more investment in these institutions,” said Wilson who rejects the suggestion that he believes Morgan should be held to a different standard than other universities.

“Never did I once advocate or would I ever advocate that there should be a separate standard for Morgan versus other research institutions. We are one of the youngest research institutions in the country…as a result of that one has to expect growing pains,” Wilson added.

“It feels good to have this pop up early in our maturation so that we understand exactly now what we need to do to put in place an infrastructure so that we at Morgan can administer a $250 million contract. That’s our goal.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor