In 1998, the Human Genome Project was well under way, stem cell controversy was raging, and the reality of global climate change was still in debate. It was clear that 21st century problems would cross traditional disciplinary lines and demand a new kind of thinking, deeply versed in multiple fields.
As a major public research institution with enormous faculty strength in biomedical and life sciences, law, and bioethics, the University of Minnesota was determined to create a new training program, research capability, and public dialogue. In 1999, the University's Regents approved the new Joint Degree Program in Law, Health & the Life Sciences that linked colleges, programs, and faculty in a major interdisciplinary effort and married law with science policy, health services research, molecular biology, pharmacology, ecology, conservation biology, and environmental health. In 2013, the program was renamed the Joint Degree Program in Law, Science & Technology, and now is part of the Law School’s Dual Degree Programs.
In the summer of 2000, the University created the Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences. The Consortium brought together 11 top centers and programs at the University to tackle societal challenges posed by biomedicine and the life sciences, which were difficult for any one center to address successfully alone.
Over the years, by joining centers across the University and leveraging combined strengths, the Consortium has been able to secure highly cross-disciplinary grants for original research; sponsor leading national programs debating emerging issues at the intersection of science, law, and policy; and award funds intramurally for research on the societal implications of the life sciences. The Consortium has given out more than $1 million in intramural grants.
A top national program, the Consortium now has 21 members, including the Masonic Cancer Center, Center for Bioethics, Stem Cell Institute, University of Minnesota Genomics Center, Institute on the Environment, and Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP). It has received multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), Robina LaPPS Research Fund, and private foundations including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, and the Greenwall Foundation.
The Consortium attracts collaborators who are among the best and brightest in their fields. It produces and publishes groundbreaking work on such issues as genetic and genomic research, oversight of nanobiology, human subjects research in nanomedicine, and neuroscience in the courtroom. It also brings to the Twin Cities speakers at the cutting edge of their disciplines to increase scholarly opportunities and support the University's public engagement mission.
Since 2013, the Consortium has reported to the Research & Innovation Office (RIO) and it continues to build a thriving community of students, faculty, dedicated members, and national colleagues. The Consortium's commitment to excellence has helped the University of Minnesota increase its standing as a leading institution pioneering interdisciplinary training and research on the societal implications of the life sciences.