B. Stanley Pons says he wants a sabbatical beginning Nov. 15 so he can donate his "full attention to research."
But Jerilyn McIntyre, University of Utah academic vice president, says Pons' request is sitting among a stack of papers on her desk and she doubts that it will be processed by the time the U.'s Institutional Council meets Nov. 13.The council isn't scheduled to meet again until Dec. 10, McIntyre said. She is acting president while U. President Chase Peterson is consulting with universities in Eastern Europe. He is expected back Nov. 12.
Pons, the electrochemist who with Martin Fleischmann is leading an international search for cheap energy through fusion, says he wants to spend full time working in several labs. According to state Fusion/Energy Advisory Council member Mitchell Melich, Pons said "he would do research here and in France."
Two weeks ago, the advisory committee demanded accountability from its star researchers, who were out of state and out of contact. The state appropriated $5 million to the search for fusion, and several council members wanted to know what progress was being made with that investment.
But Pons apparently charmed the council during a two-hour meeting Thursday morning, after which council members again expressed confidence in the fusion research. "I feel like we've been given the first installment on what we've asked for," said Randy Moon, state science adviser.
"He shared with us a lot of verbal findings. He did not give us hard data, reams of paper.
"He told us some nebulous parts of the experiments are beginning to make sense."
In contrast, Moon admitted he was concerned two weeks ago. "The reason I was more on edge was I got the impression that Pons was purposefully being at arms length."
The U.'s institutional council routinely grants sabbaticals. But Pons' request is likely to be discussed at length in closed session.
"This has to be considered an extraordinary request," said Hugo Rossi, dean of the U. College of Science.
That's partly because the controversy surrounding Pons's cold fusion experiments has made him among the U.'s most high-profile professors, and partly because the request was made just last month.
Rossi said most sabbaticals are planned at least six months in advance, allowing administrators time to juggle schedules and budgets.
Pons, a tenured professor and former chairman of the U. chemistry department, is scheduled to teach an electrochemistry class winter quarter. His sabbatical request was only two paragraphs, but outlined his plans for the year, Rossi said.
The dean declined to reveal the contents of the request or his recommendations as to whether Pons should receive a sabbatical.
"I assume that if he meets the requirements, he will get his sabbatical," said Melich, of the advisory council. "I don't think there will be any problem there."
But no one at the U. is placing wagers.
Rossi said Pons receives half of his salary from the department of chemistry and part from the National Cold Fusion Institute.
But Institute Director Fritz Will said he never received anything in writing about a leave or sabbatical. Will also wasn't advised of Pons' decision to travel during October, despite the fact that notice is required.
According to Will, the institute will pay $846,000 to Pons and his collaborators in electrochemistry at the institute during this fiscal year. An additional $100,000 was paid to people in other specialities at the institute, who worked exclusively on projects designed by Pons and Fleischmann.
But in a statement released Thursday, Pons said he has "received only my normal salary from the chemistry (department), and have not supplemented this in any way from NCFI funds. The only project that we have administered at NCFI, which commenced in November of 1989, was funded at approximately $325,000."
Fleischmann's official status is that of a research professor at the U. who works full-time for the fusion institute, according to Rossi, the institute's first official director. Rossi said Fleischmann, of Britain's Southhampton University, hasn't requested a sabbatical. But his agreement with the U. is that he will spend considerable time in England.