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NEWS NOTES
   March 2000 

Ocean Drilling Program Director Resigns

Only three years before the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) faces a critical transformation, inclusion into the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, the president of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI) asked the director of the ODP to resign.

Kathryn Moran gave JOI President James D. Watkins, Admiral, U.S. Navy (retired) her resignation on Feb. 21. The event ripped through the oceanographic community. Three days after Moran’s forced resignation, 42 scientists in advisory positions for the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) threatened to tender their resignations if the JOI Board of Governors did not address their concerns.

“I was very shocked when I was asked to resign,” Moran said in a phone interview. She wrote twice to the board afterwards, worried that the loss of a director would have an impact on the program’s future, she said.

“Regardless of the merits of the recent JOI decision to remove Kate Moran, the result has been a crisis of confidence within the ODP community in the leadership, and the decision-making processes, at JOI,” wrote two scientists on behalf of the 40 others. Oceanographer Nicklas G. Pisias of Oregon State University and James A. Austin Jr. of the University of Texas in Austin sent the letter to the JOI Board of Governors on Feb. 24.

Blame a communication gap

Moran’s forced resignation was a symptom of a disconnect between the JOI Board of Governors and the international scientific ocean drilling community JOI serves, wrote Pisias, Austin — a member of a committee on ODP’s future — and two other scientists in another letter signed March 24. The JOI Board of Governors acts similarly to a board of executives in a company, with the oceanographic community benefiting from the science program as stakeholders instead of shareholders.

“Initially the board of governors was set up and populated by individuals with a direct interest in the ODP,” Moran said. “Over the years there has been a loss of interest — no one was watching over them.”

The Ocean Drilling Program followed the efforts of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, which began in 1968 to core the depths of the global sea floor and record the rocks and fluids discovered. JOIDES is the international organization of grassroots volunteer scientists who advise JOI, the nonprofit company that manages the Ocean Drilling Program through a contract with the National Science Foundation. In 2003, the ODP will join with Japan’s Ocean Drilling in the 21st Century and other ocean drilling partners around the world into the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

The immediate actions that Pisias and Austin suggested to the Board of Governors in the Feb. 24 letter included two major changes. They asked to move the oversight of ODP to a subcommittee of the board and to institute a review of the general management, personnel policies and procedures of JOI.

JOI takes action

The JOI  Board of Governors (BoG) met to discuss the community’s concerns and responded with a letter to Ted Moore of the University of Michigan and others on March 15, outlining several actions. JOI is now discussing a move to combine the ODP director and JOI president positions, Moore and colleagues wrote March 24 in a summary letter addressing the board’s response. Moore, chair of the International Planning Sub-Committee to help structure the future role of the ODP, sent the letter to members of the scientific community who have interests in the present and future of ocean drilling. Any change in hiring positions will need approval from the National Science Foundation.

Adm. Watkins is currently both president of JOI and president of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE), which lobbies to enhance U.S. funding for ocean research. In the midst of these changes, Adm. Watkins announced March 7 to the CORE Board of Governors his intention to retire before the end of the current legislative session, said Terry Schaff, assistant to the president of JOI. As of now, the current legislative session is scheduled to recess Oct. 6. “When the admiral retires, CORE and JOI will compete for new presidents,” Schaff said.

The board also established a Management Oversight Committee to assist in overseeing the ODP and has appointed John Orcutt of Scripps Institution of Oceanography to develop a transition plan for ODP to be presented to the Executive Committee of JOIDES in June.

Changes seen as optimistic

“Reaction to Moran’s termination from both the U.S. and various non-U.S. partners within the JOIDES community was swift and strong,” Moore wrote in the March 24 letter signed by Austin, Pisias and the chair of the U.S. Science Advisory Committee, Peggy Delaney of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Virtually all JOIDES scientists viewed this event as detrimental to the health of the ODP and to prospects for a continuation of scientific ocean drilling beyond 2003,” they wrote.

Moore and colleagues were hopeful that the new management committee would “address many of the issues that gave rise to the miscommunication and misunderstanding between the BoG and the ODP Director,” they wrote.

Although recent advertisements in the March 14 EOS for Moran’s position “reflected the state of matters at the time,” Schaff said, they were developed prior to the decision to combine the ODP director position with the presidency of JOI. New advertisements are expected.

Although Moran is still uncertain about why the action against her was taken, she said she is hopeful ODP will have a successful future.

“Kate brought to ODP a vision of the future and the energy to transform a program that is in its twilight into a program with a new beginning,” Austin and Pisias wrote. “Of primary concern to the ODP community is whether Kate Moran was a good director of the Ocean Drilling Program. From the community’s perspective, the answer is clearly yes.”

Christina Reed