Archive for Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dean’s firing reveals broader concerns at KU Medical Center

April 30, 2011


Related document

KUMC faculty talking points ( .PDF )

Related document

Flyer compiled by KUMC graduate students ( .PDF )

“We are facing a potential upheaval; a lot of people are questioning whether they want to stay here.”

This is the opinion of an outstanding faculty member in the Kansas University School of Medicine. Others have expressed the same concern, but this very serious matter has remained veiled because of concern that if this situation becomes public it might derail or postpone the KU Medical Center’s chances of receiving the highly prized National Cancer Center designation.

The lid came off this explosive issue with the firing earlier this month of Dr. Curtis Klaassen, a university distinguished professor and chairman of the department of pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutics at KUMC in Kansas City, Kan.

He has been on the medical center faculty since 1968 and is one of the school’s true all-stars. A fellow faculty member described him as a “good man at heart with an exceptional reputation. He is known internationally and he has made his department out of nothing. He is highly successful and does a great job with new faculty members and his post-doctoral students.”

Klaassen was fired April 12 in a letter from Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor and executive dean of the School of Medicine.

The letter stated, “This letter is to officially notify you in writing that you are no longer chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics at the University of Kansas School of Medicine as of our meeting on April 6, 2011, when I told you this then. In that meeting, I gave you the opportunity to characterize this dismissal as a resignation from the chair position. However, to date, I have not received a letter of resignation, even after the reminder e-mail I sent to you on April 8 to give me your decision no later than Monday, April 11.

“You are relieved of any and all responsibilities related to the chair position. You are not to direct or lead the faculty and may no longer call department faculty meetings. You are not to interfere with the financial management of the department in any way.

“I have appointed Dr. Gerald Carlson as the interim chair, and you are to cooperate with him and report to him on all matters. Sincerely, Barbara.”

On April 10, Atkinson sent a memo to medical school faculty, and perhaps others, saying, “I want everyone to know that this action was taken only after very careful consideration and deliberation. I particularly considered what would be in the overall future best interests of the department and the programs of the medical center and the university.

“Because at its essence, this is a personnel matter, it would be inappropriate to discuss this decision further here except to say that the chairs of all KUMC departments serve at the pleasure of the Dean and/or Executive Vice Chancellor…”

Senior faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral students told this writer that many medical school faculty members have left their administrative posts at KUMC during Atkinson’s tenure because they were “fired, forced to ‘resign,’ marginalized or left because they apparently found it impossible to interact with the dean.”

They add that she does not follow the university’s guidelines and has hired faculty, chairs and many people in the cancer center without search committees. She also does not provide annual written evaluations of faculty who report to her.

Anger over Atkinson’s actions and behavior is particularly intense among faculty and students in the basic sciences departments.

Chairmen of various medical school departments say the school’s promotions and tenure committee denied tenure for nine faculty last year, and the dean overturned eight of the nine decisions. They say most faculty won’t run for faculty governance committees or, if they do, they don’t attend meetings because it is “the dean’s way or the highway.”

Others say they are worried about the financial solvency of KUMC under Atkinson’s leadership.

“The bottom line is that KUMC appears to be autocratic. There appears to be no freedom of speech, no joint governance and no transparency,” said a group of graduate and post-doctoral students.

This unrest is not something that just popped up with Klaassen’s firing.

In September 2010, a group of seven KUMC faculty members, now known as the “Group of Seven,” told Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little about a number of their concerns. All seven faculty members were chairs of their various departments, and they originally titled their concerns a “Declaration of No Confidence by the Committee of 7.”

Later they met with the chancellor and talked about a wide range of matters. This prompted a letter from Gray-Little to Atkinson, telling her about the meeting and that many topics had been discussed. The chancellor added, “Much of our discussion focused on governance. The chairs expressed the view that faculty in general and department heads in particular, have little or no voice in the governance of the school, contrary to school policy. As a result, they feel they have no part in influencing decisions that affect them directly.”

In another part of the letter, Gray-Little stated, “… the chairs were chagrined that those discussions did not lead to a pattern of consultation for making clinical decisions.”

She added, “The recent changes regarding the organization and leadership of reproductive biology form the latest flashpoint. As you can imagine, they expressed substantial dismay about these decisions, but even more about the longer term implications of this type of decision making. For example, they feel the faculty in their departments are beginning to be alienated from the senior administration. They cite instances in which they have not been able to honor commitments to recently hired faculty members because of changes made without consultation. As a result, this has eroded trust in the administration and makes new faculty believe that the School of Medicine is not a desirable place to be in the long term, which weakens their commitment to KU. The chairs cited other particular examples to illustrate their disenfranchisement, but the underlying issue was the same.

“I know there are always multiple approaches to explaining and understanding an issue. I write you because of the depth of distress that I sensed in the chairs and their concern about not only their domains of responsibility, but also the long-term economic viability and governance of the School. Sincerely, Bernadette Gray-Little.”

This letter was written Aug. 27, 2010, and apparently had no effect because Atkinson’s governance at the medical school seems to be the same, if not worse.

Other faculty members have written to Atkinson calling attention to their concerns, but, again, there has been little if any corrective action.

It is obvious Klaassen is a deeply committed KUMC faculty member. It’s also clear he has been fighting for his department and is terribly upset and frustrated about what is happening to the basic sciences at the medical school. He worries about the fiscal sustainability of the medical school considering the recent approval by the Kansas Board of Regents for a medical school program in Salina and improvements to the medical school in Wichita. Those actions came at a time when regents acknowledge they have no money to pay for the new and expanded operations. Many at the Kansas City medical school are fearful money will be diverted from their budgets to pay for programs in Salina and Wichita.

They fault the regents for their lack of fiscal competence in starting these programs with no money.

Klaassen is passionate about his department and what is happening at the school. As one associate said, “He probably let his control slip in dealing with the dean, and now he is paying the price.”

According to a number of faculty members, Atkinson rules by fear. No one wants to counter or question her actions and policies. She does what she wants without asking for input from others at the school.

One observer said, “Dr. Klaassen was not fired because he was incompetent or did anything wrong but rather because he dared to differ with the dean. He probably was very aggressive and she fired him.”

This faculty member said, “Atkinson is destroying the very structure of the basic science department, and Dr. Klaassen has tried to do what he can to protect and strengthen the departments.”

It’s not a happy family at the KU medical school, but Atkinson’s critics are quick to point out she is “politically smart.” They claim she was able to maintain her position and power during former Chancellor Robert Hemenway’s latter years, when he was not on top of the situation as much as he should have been.

Then she realized Gray-Little would hesitate to make any major changes so soon after moving into the chancellor’s office. Also, with the medical center pulling out all the stops to try to be certified as a National Cancer Center, the chancellor would not want to make any changes in the school’s leadership that might damage that effort.

Nevertheless, it is clear there is little genuine support for Atkinson among many at the school. They do not challenge her for fear of severe recrimination. They claim many of her decisions have had, or will have, severe financial repercussions and that it will “cost a ton of money to find another chair of Klaassen’s department.”

It’s clear there are serious problems at the KU medical school and that this has been known by insiders for some time. Unfortunately, little has been done to correct the situation.

This is another case of Kansas regents either being in the dark or not having the courage to do anything about it. Does Gray-Little have the courage to do anything about it? Or are people so fearful about endangering the NCI designation that they are willing to put up with Atkinson’s disruptive leadership?

If Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center, has put together a compelling case for the Comprehensive Cancer Center, it’s likely to be approved, although not necessarily on the first attempt.

University officials obviously do not want the public to know about the ugly situation within the medical school, but it would be wrong to continue the coverup.

The integrity and reputation of the school is too important not to confront the leadership issue and make the proper corrections.

A leader who lacks respect and admiration and rules by fear, a disregard for policies, questionable fiscal management and not telling the truth should trump any concern over raising questions among those who will decide whether the school deserves recognition as a National Cancer Center.

What has been allowed to go on at the medical school is wrong and must be corrected.

Regents, as well as the chancellor, should be embarrassed for having allowed this situation to fester. Kansas deserves better. Who is going to step up and restore enthusiasm and sound direction at the School of Medicine? Or is Atkinson untouchable?


kansasplains 6 years, 12 months ago

People who are concerned about their jobs and the Medical Center often can not practice good medicine, as a result of their fears, anger, and hidden anxieties. What does this mean to the overall care of the hospital?

Davehawk 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm an outsider who's done business with KUMC for 30 years and Klaassen's department for a decade. It has secured more research grants than almost any other KUMC dept; for example, the interim chair's department has almost no grants, while Klaassen's has about $15M/year, owing to his work recruiting outstanding faculty and students worldwide. Klaassen is a heavyweight, far more respected than most KUMC faculty in their disciplines; he was President of the Society of Toxicology (20,000 members) and for a decade Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Toxicology. The article is accurate and relevant; already one hotshot young faculty member has announced his departure, and I know of three others interviewing. When they leave, they take their grant $ with them. Due to Klaassen's prominence, it'll be near-impossible to find a replacement who approaches his stature, and the one current faculty who's been mentioned, Dr Wong, is such a lightweight that a scientist who collaborates with KUMC on major grant projects told me that he would discontinue working with KU if she took over.

The source of the problem was that Atkinson wanted to take away space needed for a funded researcher in deference to one in cancer research but without grant money. Klaassen objected vehemently to such short-sighted speculative use of resources and this 20 year contributor to KUMC is demoted. Not performance-related, just not kowtowing.

AtHomeInLawrence 6 years, 12 months ago

This editorial is a breath of fresh air. Barbara Atkinson has also destroyed other KU School of Medicine departments through her unquestionable decisions. For example, due to Atkinson's hiring diktats, the Pediatrics department will likely face accreditation problems in the near future, which then puts the accreditation of the entire School at risk. The Chancellor has been made aware of such problems, but has not yet addressed them. It is urgent that the Chancellor show leadership.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

I am an employee at KUMC for many years, and this article by Dolph is accurate and valid. I'm glad that this article came out, because initially we were forced to keep silent when Dean did so many unethical things again and again. If we complain to the Dean, we were threatened to be fired. I hope people who are outsiders will also know the truth in KUMC. The Dean doesn't honor Board of Regents guidelines, and she ignores university's guidelines in hiring and firing faculty. Only after this article came out, did she quickly gathered a search committee trying to force the faculty to make quick decisions in finding another chair to replace Curtis Klaassen (this happened this morning). This is probably the first time in history that she made the search committee transparent in KUMC. Was she scared about the truth being released to the public? I am very curious which well-respected professor would actually want to apply for this position and deal with a boss like her. The promotion and Tenure committee is one of the most important committees in KUMC whose advice should be honored. However, the Dean is very autocratic in making her own decisions about tenureship. The head of the P&T committee, a professor from radiology department, complained that it is impossible to work with the Dean, and this person resigned after Dean Atkinson ignored the majority of the committee's decisions. People have been discussing about Dean Atkinson's misconduct on this matter for a while. I'm glad Dolph brought this up in the article. The information he provided is accurate. Overall, what the dean did is not correct. No scientists with integrity whould support her. I would speculate that at most she might get some sort of support from the Pathology department, (where she came from) no matter she forced people to do so or not, and this support is apparently signled-sourced and/or biased. The Dean must resign for the goodness of the entire institution. Dr. Curtis Klaassen's position must be restored, and the Dean must apologize to him immediately. The chancellor needs to put an end of the Dean's abuse of power and financial crisis she brought to KUMC.

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

I totally agree with this post and as far as I know, this is accurate.

Jerry Cross 6 years, 12 months ago

It appears that Ms Atkinson has taken advantage of the transition between chancellors. I know "Captain Obvious" has spoken. When is the Chancellor Gray-Little going to start showing some leadership? This far into her tenure I am less than convinced.

LJD230 6 years, 12 months ago

The decision to expand the medical school's presence in Wichita and to start a new venue in Salina may be good politics but, in my opinion, will do nothing to enhance the less than mediocre academic reputation of the medical school. The guts of any good medical school are the basic sciences. And now, as more and more medical schools of excellence are integrating the clinical and basic sciences within the totality of the educational experience, the basic sciences take on greater import. It is difficult to comprehend how well any good integrated medical school curriculum can be taught over the internet. The collegial, collaborative and mentaoring experience of medical education is lost in this new and unproven teaching modality.

KU's medical school will only achieve greater distinction when the undergraduate medical education it provides offers a rigorous and integrated curriculum taught in a collegial and collaborative environment AND sponsors and supports a world class clinical and research environment for the training of residents and fellows.

One measure of a medical schools reputation--albeit perhaps subjective--are the medical centers where it's graduates pursue the post-graduate residency experience. How many of KU's recent graduates were accepted into residency programs sponsored by the country's best medical school and hospitals?

KU's Medical School can either be a factory producing primary care docs for Kansas or it can become a well respected center that provides excellent undergraduate and postgraduate educational programs AND supports and nurtures research in both the clinical and basic sciences. This can only be accomplished within the confines of a unified and integrated campus. And if the clinical material necessary to support that mission is not available at KU Hospital then additional academic affiliations with other hospitals must be forged.

In short, the medical school should be a single entity located in Kansas City and supported by strong academic affiliations with other hospitals as required to support the mission of research, teaching and patient care.

Joe Hyde 6 years, 12 months ago

When they were children, both of my sons had their lives and futures saved by expert medical work performed by doctors, nurses and staff at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, KS. This all took place before the arrival of Ms. Atkinson.

My oldest son at age 15 had a cartilege tumor in one of his hip joints -- a type of tumor so rare that annually fewer than 5 people in the U.S. get hit by it. I shudder to think how limited and painful his life would be today if that tumor had not been identified then corrected by surgery. It was identified barely in the nick of time, and this happened because KU Medical Center had just weeks earlier lured from New York City a highly sought-after surgeon who specializes in treating bone cancers and other bone disorders.

Would the surgeon who saved my boy's future have considered leaving New York City and moving to Kansas if whispers around the water cooler were suggesting that the quality of care at KU Medical Center was on the skids due to the arrogant behavior of a highly placed autocrat? I doubt he'd have wanted to waste his skills working in such a ruthlessly controlling environment, where open communication between medical staff and administrators is not just thwarted but aggressively punished.

Sounds to me like somebody needs to Jap-slap this woman and send her out the door before she screws up the whole damn place.

WilburM 6 years, 12 months ago

Amazing. Rather than the usual "this reporter has talked to knowledgeable persons" kind of flabby writing, solid information, real data, good reporting. This is pretty damning stuff,and it puts the ball in the Chancellor's court. There's got to be some real reaction here.

+1 Dolph.

Phillbert 6 years, 12 months ago

Are you kidding? Other than quoting from campus-wide e-mails, letters that went to the prof in question (so you can just guess how Dolph got them), and anonymous flyers, the rest is the typical "this reporter has talked to knowledgeable persons" fluff that he always writes. (Only longer, which I didn't think was possible.)

Take this paragraph: "Senior faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral students told this writer that many medical school faculty members have left their administrative posts at KUMC during Atkinson’s tenure because they were “fired, forced to ‘resign,’ marginalized or left because they apparently found it impossible to interact with the dean.”"

Well, he sure seems to have talked to a lot of people.

Nope, he's just quoting from the flyer linked on the left side of the column. An anonymous, unsourced flyer that he then assigns to "senior faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral students" telling him that.

In fact many of his claims are from that anonymous flyer - verbatim. But he never quotes them as such, and in fact refers to those claims with various sources so as to make himself sound more credible.

You and every other reader got taken for a ride.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 12 months ago

Senior faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral students told this writer that many medical school faculty members have left their administrative posts at KUMC during Atkinson’s tenure because they were “fired, forced to ‘resign,’ marginalized or left because they apparently found it impossible to interact with the dean.”

"Many"? This is public record, it would take a reporter about 20 minutes to determine how many faculty members have left their administrative posts at KUMC during Atkinson's tenure. Then a reporter could verify the information from anonymous sources.

That would be relevant information, instead this is just typical anonymous rumor mongering accompanied by a posting of letters and e-mails. That's not reporting, it is barely even blogging... that's archiving, and this story would not grade well in a high school journalism class.

kuprof54 6 years, 12 months ago

@Phillbert: Keep denying that people feed Dolph all kinds of info. You say he quoted from the letters but didn't talk to people. How did he get the letters? Did they magically appear? Don't you think someone gave them to him and filled him in? Your argument has some flaws. As usual.

Believe it or not, Dolph talks to lots of people. And he probably knows more about what goes on at KU than Do-Little or Bitter.

Heckuva column, Dolph. Again, BGL's lack of leadership is substantiated. If she doesn't do anything immediately to diagnose and intervene, this may shatter any glimmer of respect that a few people have left for her. The rest of us have already given up.

Phillbert 6 years, 12 months ago

He almost assuredly got every single one of those documents from the fired professor whose case he takes up not on merit, but because it lets him hammer on KU once again. One whole impressive.

And I don't dispute that he talks to disgruntled people all the time. They know he'll print anything that fits his agenda, regardless of its veracity.

Heckvua job, Brownie.

kuprof54 6 years, 12 months ago

I'm sure you're right that he got them from Klaassen. And if there are things going on at KU that should be hammered on, then Dolph should do it.

Look, readers, many people have forgot that BGL, Vitter, etc., are STEWARDS of the University of Kansas for the rest of the state of Kansas and its taxpayers who fund the university. If its not running well and bad things are going on, they have a responsibility to manage them. So far, they are failing. And have been for a while. I'm hoping Huron finds recommends that KU needs new leadership. Because that's what its professors and alumni are thinking.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 12 months ago

I'm confused, which dean was fired? There is no mention in this story of a dean being fired.

All I see is some perfessor doesn't get to play department chair anymore. But he still has his job. He still has his responsibilities as a researcher. He still has his classes.

Boo freaking hoo.

Again -- who was fired? Which individual is out looking for work?

concernedfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

No Dean was fired. The title is ambiguous and a poor use of grammar; rather the Dean did the 'firing'. Actually, no one was fired. A Chair of a department was relieved of his administrative duties, but remains a faculty member of the department.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 6 years, 12 months ago

This Atkinson woman is a disaster. She was involved in the attempt to gut the Med Center's most profitable programs and move them over to Missouri. That fiasco resulted in the loss of the hospital's administrator, a woman who had literally lifted it from the doorstep of bankruptcy.

The person who needs to be fired here is this idiot Atkinson. I believe that it was revealed during that last disaster that she had quite a checkered past.

concernedfaculty 6 years, 12 months ago

There are clearly problems in the Medical Center that need to be addressed. However, to characterize the leadership of the basic sciences as a interactive and unified group ignores the recent past.

The basic science departments have a history of bickering and promotion of self-interests. Previous opportunities for these groups to work together to advance shared interests have been squandered. Only rarely do senior faculty provide useful, thoughtful insight into the future of the medical center beyond the promotion of their interests. The recent criticisms of the Dean have provided an unusual opportunity for this group for form an alliance of convenience.

This is the environment the Dean has had to work with, and, rightly or wrongly, she has decided to undertake these initiatives with limited input. Only now, when an extremely vocal, self-serving, and at times rude faculty member was relieved of his administrative duties is this dirty laundry being aired. If and when this group either accomplishes their aims or are sundered, rest assured that these individuals will return to their petty infighting and self interests.

There are many problems in the medical center, but these problems have existed for many years. Leaders at all levels need to look at themselves for allowing such an environment to grow.

laughingatallofu 6 years, 12 months ago

It must remembered that academia attracts a lot of prima donnas (or they're attracted to academia, nor sure which). Undoubtedly, there are a number of them involved in this cat fight. Turf wars abound, egos get bruised, and the wheels on the bus go round and round. There is nothing here that doesn't go on at any other major university/academic medical center. It's just a little more public at KUMC, right now.

It seems that the the name of the game right now is NCI designation at ALL costs --- even if that means throwing people under the bus. I do agree that the Chancellor needs to exert some leadership, though. Certainly the previous Chancellor was clueless. I don't hold out great hopes, though, seeing how she handled the KUAC fiasco. Seems like Barbara Atkinson is Lew Perkins in a dress.

Thunderdome 6 years, 12 months ago

Hmmm...sounds like the Business School. BGL, when are you going to engage? It's time to get your head in the game and identify strategies for success in the Medical and Business Schools. Earn your pay!

4chewnut 6 years, 12 months ago

I'll also note the headline is incorrect and inflammatory. Care to correct, Dolph/LJW? No dean involved. He was a chair. And he was not fired. He was relieved of his duties as chair. Maybe not as sensational a headline with the facts, eh Dolph?

RumakiDoc 6 years, 12 months ago

It is unfortunate to see Simons’ opportunistic use of complaints from a disgruntled chair recently fired over his personal behavior issues. Klaassen is obviously the sole source of the content of recent letters, e-mails and flyers promulgated through his representatives. Even a very superficial investigation of the facts supporting Klaassen’s dismissal would reveal why it was a necessary and long-anticipated outcome.

KUMC faculty and administrators have long been aware of Klaassen’s flawed approach to leading people and interacting with peers. These issues led to his being passed over in the recruitment of the previous chair in 1992. A review of the department in 2003 reiterated these same concerns to the administration, yet he was nonetheless appointed (with no external search).

Despite his unparalleled ability to garner funding, his foibles in interacting with people are the stuff of legend on the KUMC campus. It’s likely that Klaassen met his “third strike” with Atkinson over incidents widely known to the KUMC campus that in the “real business world” could easily have mandated his immediate summary dismissal. The KUMC administration has taken every opportunity to preserve Klaassen’s grant income to the University despite his being unsupportable as chair.

Simons’ calls Atkinson “A leader who lacks respect and admiration and rules by fear, a disregard for policies, questionable fiscal management and not telling the truth”, but Klaassen fits the description just as well. While the decisions of KUMC leadership may be questionable in some respects, Simons and the LJW might benefit from a more critical view of those who would champion their agenda. Bernadette Gray-Little and other KU administrators would also do well to consider more closely the actual costs and liabilities of maintaining individuals like Klaassen despite the significant grant income they generate for the University.

LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 12 months ago

What do you mean by "KUMC faculty and administrators have long been aware of Klaassen’s flawed approach to leading people and interacting with peers"? What is the "flawless approach" any how? Telling lies and being Barbara's "yes-person" regardless of what's right nor wrong? Also it is not true that you said "Klaassen fits the description just as well" . He never rules by fear and his fiscal management is very transparent (see his annual "State of the Department" report). You sure need to spend more time to study the history of KU and the importance of scholar's integrity.

RumakiDoc 6 years, 11 months ago

See concernedfaculty's reply below. The unbridled praise of Klaassen that runs through all of your propoganda is comical. Anyone with substantial experience of him knows exactly why he was canned - in the end, his constant, offensive, unprofessional behavior finally overshadowed his significant career accomplishments.

LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

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yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Yes, how do great medical schools put up with those mean old faculty who get grants and are successful and enhance reputations and build research?

Give me a nice, kind, mediocre, loser faculty member over a mean, successful one any day.

Sounds like professional envy to me. Successful people do tend to rub certain people the wrong way, usually the mediocre. Successful people can often be brusk, judgemental, decisive, intemperate and intolerant. These traits help make them successful, and most good medical schools and universities deal effectively with these people.

KU has not and does not.

I would also say that Atkinson and Klaassen share these traits in common, and are probably more similar to each other than different as people.

LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

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LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

KUfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

Your comments about Curtis Klaassen are not necessarily valid. Klaassen literally saved his department from wreck in 2003, when previous chair stepped down from the chairmanship. Klaassen has an average of 3 NIH grants per year, whereas Sam Enna (the previous chair), in comparsion, did not get any NIH grants for twenty years at KUMC.

LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 12 months ago

Dolph's article is absolutely light in the darkness. Many of us have served in KUMC for many years. There for we are well-positioned to justify that Curtis Klaassen is an exceptional Chair. Let the data speak for itself, in the year 2002 (the year before he was appointed as Chair), his department had 8 faculty members and 3 research faculty. During his Chairmanship, the numbers of employees in this department steadily increased, and in the year 2010, his deparment have 24 faculty and 10 research faculty, which tripled the 2002 record. Regarding the total NIH grant dollars, in the year 2002, his department had only $1.3 million Direct Award and $1.95 million Total Award. After he became Chair, the total NIH Grant dollars in our department increased markedly and steadily over the past 8 years. These facts undoubtedly demonstrate that Curtis Klaassen is a well qualified and exceptional Chair. And not only that, he is known as being honest, generous, forgiving, and a real gentleman to all. On the contrary, Barbara Atkinson rules by terror, a well-known fact across the entire campus. After she forced Darell Quarels to resign, many of his employees lost their jobs overnight. This was a big panic at that time. Employees have no security under her leadership. Barbara also got rid of Irene Cummings by her autocratic actions: A BIG LOSS TO THE KU HOSPITAL. She does not follow Board of Regents guidelines and ignores university policies. I'm surprised that she still stays in her position: she must have no sense of shame or anything. A junior faculty in KUMC called Barbara Atkinson as "modern Nazis". A tenured faculty in KUMC said "she is destroying all basic sciences in KUMC, and she will be marked as the Dean of failure in history". Dean Barbara Atkinson should learn to work with people: a kindergarten skill that apparently she hasn't got yet. Or else she should be removed from her position.

concernedfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

There is no debate that Dr. Klaassen is an extremely well-funded scientist. His department has grown substantially during his time as chair, having leveraged his funding to advance his agenda. However, to characterize Dr. Klaassen as 'honest... and a real gentleman to all' is inaccurate to the point of laughability. Anyone that has worked with him will chuckle at that statement. His lack of restraint and caustic criticism of the Dean bordered on unprofessional, and is the reason why he no longer is chair. It is unfortunate, as many of his concerns are valid, but the message got lost in the delivery.

Icount 6 years, 11 months ago

specify what you mean by lack of restraint and caustic criticism, it looks like you were there when it happened so ... details would help on the other hand, singing praises without merit for personal gains (promotions, anyone?) can be totally unprofessional

devobrun 6 years, 12 months ago

Come on folks, this is science. Science isn't politics. Science and the product that results isn't political.......

The heck it isn't.

Ask Dr. Klaassen.

And could other departments in the university be subject to political pressure? Might other departments be compelled to say the right things for their department heads and their funding agencies?

Wake up America. Science is big business. The notion that contrarians might challenge the "science" is lost in funding, policy, towing the line, obeying the authority.

All you old hippies, listen up. You are being jobbed by science today. Science is the most controlled it has ever been. Green, "alternative", do this, don't do that, control freaks at every level have rendered science worse than big oil. Dean Atkinson is trying to steer the med school toward her vision. That's what deans do. That vision is not compatible with people who have been at KUMC for 43 years. Old farts like Klaassen no longer have the "vision" that people have 43 years later. He probably wants evidence and testing that is too stringent for today's scientific rigor. He probably has promised young researchers that they can move up if their research is fruitful....even if it is against the politically expedient.

Money, LJW, money......Klaassen wasn't playing ball with the funding agency.

If he was he'd still be there. Produce results... and those results are pre-programmed science.

LawrenceFaculty 6 years, 12 months ago

Dean Atkinson's vision isn't that modern either. She bankrupted the Hahnemann school in 1998 with her "outstanding vision". Now it is the KU's turn. Politics rules everything, but science brings research money to the university and feed the future. Politicians come and go all the time, whereas scientists lay the foundation for the institution.

helium 6 years, 11 months ago

During Dr. Atkinson's time, female senior leadership at KUMC has been decimated. Five female Chairs (one of whom is black), one funded female cancer center associate director, at least two funded NIH investigators and a very senior funded female experienced researcher have been removed or resigned. There is essentially no (significant) academic female senior leadership remaining in the School of Medicine. And of course the CEO of the KU Hospital, Irene Cumming, who brought the KU Hospital and the Medical Center into the modern era resigned. It would seem that this Chancellor of the University might be interested in exploring Dr. Atkinson's reasons this has occured under Dr. Atkinson's leadership without meaningful attempts at senior female leadership recruitment.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

To focus only on Atkinson is to ignore the problems at KUMC that existed before she arrived.

The basic sciences at KUMC have remained balkanized and provincial because of lack of resources and thus turf protection. They never integrated into modern research disciplines and thus lack reputation and achievement of other medical schools. Yes, Klaassen is a great researcher, but he would be par for the course at most medical schools. The rule, not the exception.

KUMC has pockets of research excellence, but certainly no sustained, vibrant, growing record as an institution. Atkinson might be handling this poorly and making bad decisions, but she is playing with the hand she was dealt.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 11 months ago

Why is it always assumed the universities must be democracies? Businesses certainly are not.

It is wise and prudent leadership to allow people input and ideas as well as influence in the process, but at the end of the day, an individual makes the decision, not a conglomerate of voices.

A balance of input before decision making and autocracy when it comes to making he decision is required. This is leadership.

Atkinson might be too far to the autocratic side, but the real point here is that she is making bad decisions.

Putting all resources toward a cancer center, expanding to Salina and Wichita without new resources, and alienating the most successful faculty are not good decisions.

KUfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

The previous chair of pharmacology, Sam Enna, was a failure as a department chair and scientist, but probably politically correct. Klaassen is probably the opposite. I guess KU does not want excellence.

KUfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

Dolph Simons in this editorial brought up the financial problems that the two additional medical school campuses might cost Kansas in the future. There are many more financial concerns for KUMC, mainly: HOW LONG WILL KU MEDICAL SCHOOL BE SOLVENT? KU-Med is the name of the hospital where physicians treat patients, whereas KU School of medicine is a separate entity where faculty teach the next generation of physicians and scientists. KU-Med, the hospital, is doing spectacular since it was split off and separated from the medical school. The hospital has a board that closely monitors the financial status of the hospital. How about KU-Medical School? It is theoretically overseen by the Board of Regents. But as noted in this newspaper last Saturday, do the Regents monitor the fiscal stability of the medical school? The present Dean of the Medical School and for the last eight years has been Dr. Barbara Atkinson. She was the Dean of Hahnnemann Medical School when it went bankrupt in 1998. Dr. Atkinson informs the press that she has invested $350 million dollars in the Cancer Center. It appears that $50-100 million might have come from philanthropy. Where did the other $250 million come from? This is more money than the Medical School obtains from the State, Tuition, and Endowment over a number of years. At the same time, Dean Atkinson has hired a number of Cancer researchers, many with funds from the KBA. Where will the money come to pay their salaries after their 3-5 years start-up packages are spent? The Dean also has started two new campuses for medical students, one in Wichita and one in Salina. The two communities are trying to obtain local philanthropic funds for the first year of operation. Where will the money come for these two campuses in the future? Barbara Atkinson has also announced that there will be a new School of Public Health at KUMC. She indicates she is trying to obtain philanthropic funds to pay for a Dean of this new school for the first year. Where does the money come from in the future to pay the Dean, faculty, as well as funds to rent space for these faculty in the newly constructed endowment building? In addition, the medical school needs to pay the bonds on the new research building, and the bonds for renovating the space for the Cancer Center. These are just a few examples of what appears to be humongous financial problems that Dr. Atkinson has created for the State of Kansas. Will this be the second medical school where Dr. Atkinson is dean when it becomes insolvent? All of these major programs are occurring at a time when less money is being provided by the State to the Medical School. Do the Regents know what the five and ten year business plan is for KU Medical School? It sure is not transparent to the faculty how the Medical School will remain solvent. If the faculty request explanations, Dr. Atkinson fires them.

jaydocky 6 years, 11 months ago

Barbara will be retired when all this happens. What difference does it make to her?

chipmunk 6 years, 11 months ago

Klaasen has a very committed and devoted cadre of junior faculty and trainees who appear to be behind the deluge of anonymous emails (included in this piece) pointing out Atkinson's poor leadership. Many of the points they make have merit, but many do not. Dr. Klaasen is indeed a well-funded scientist, but a fairly large chunk of the faculty have tired of his antics and brinksmanship, a bombastic, confrontational style that makes it difficult to have any type of dialog. The notion that "great" scientists and leaders behave like spoiled three-year olds is absurd. Some of the greatest academic scientists are quiet, thoughtful people who rarely, if ever, employ tantrums as a means of dealing with ineffective leadership. That being said, Dr. Atkinson is a major liability to both the clinical and basic science departments of the SOM. Her departure is likely to coincide with the receipt of the first review of the NCI application, whether it is positive or negative. Hopefully, BGL will have the wisdom to identify a true academic dean for the SOM at that time.

IronChefKS 6 years, 11 months ago

This kind of abuse of "leadership" is epidemic at KU. I'm pleased to see this example brought to light.

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

Mr Simons, don't stop here. Keep digging and writing about this very interesting and important topic. Things need to change for the best of KUMC and the Chancellor and the board of regents can't just ignore the facts which they have been aware of for too long without doing anything serious.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

Great job Mr Simons! You are on the side of justice! Please keep us updated.

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

There seems to be a lot of censorship going from the journal staff... I haven't read anything that would deserved to be removed, as I read them all before they got removed. Be very cautious as to do so, Freedom of speech is one of the most important right we have in our "Free" countries. Unless there is derogatory comments made directly to someone or very unappropriate language, I would assume that anything else can be posted and is worth reading. Don't get hasty in removing post that get "suggested for removal" as this might be done by people against this article and who want the truth to be burried. Process with caution on this slippery slope. Thank you.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

Chancellor Gray-Little just sent out a broadcast email admitting that she was also behind the decision of removing Dr. Curtis Klaassen. These two women talked before. It seems now that both of the two leaders violated the Board of Regent's guidelines and the university's policies in hiring and firing faculty members. Faculty are not allowed any input in making important decisions. Is this consensus or coersion? Are we in America or Russia? Ironically, it looks like KU is quite communistic in a democratic country.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

It looks like Barbara Atkinson is scared. She just broadcasted another email, trying to say that this article is not correct. From what we know, this article is correct, including the promotion and tenure decisions by the dean. The only information we learnt from Barbara's and Gray-Little's two letters today, was that they can send out broadcast emails. So they can mute people's voice at their pleasure.

Icount 6 years, 11 months ago

It looks to me like more defiant than scared. It's even worse. Someone needs a reality check, your small world of pampered bums that tell you how magnificent you are and how many great things you do may not be objective. many emperors were told just that and many lost their heads

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

Since Dean Atkinson has been appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (, and with the former governor Kathleen Sebelius being the Health Secretary and depending on their relationship, the Dean might be untouchable. We shall see what happens next. But the Board of Regent cannot just ignore all the violations of their guidelines.

Icount 6 years, 11 months ago

Hm, they keep each other like in a chain. Friends with benefits. They really believe they deserve it. If it's weak, it will break at some point in time, it always does!

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

From Barbara Atkinson's broadcast email ("Checking in"), we can learn that she is a huge liar.

For example, she said in this broadcast that "When it comes to the hiring and evaluation of department chairs, we follow a rigorous yearly evaluation process. I am saddened by false claims being made by anonymous individuals about tenure recommendations.An untrue rumor like this devalues the promotion of each of the faculty members who earned tenure." This is to claim that Dolph was lying when he pointed out in the Saturday news article that "Chairmen of various medical school departments say the school’s promotions and tenure committee denied tenure for nine faculty last year, and the dean overturned eight of the nine decisions. They say most faculty won’t run for faculty governance committees or, if they do, they don’t attend meetings because it is “the dean’s way or the highway.”

Who is actually lying? This is the real question.

On May 27th, 2010, The chair of the Promotion and Tenure Committee, Dr. Louis H. Wetzel, who served the committee for 25 years, resigned from his position. In his letter to Barbara Atkinson (on behalf of 22 faculty, and also cc'd Drs. Robert Klein, Allen Rawitch, Gary Gronseth, Bernadette Gray-Little, and Donna Sweet), he wrote the following: "... As you know we recommended non promotion and/or tenure for faculty, and you reversed the committee's recommendations in 8 of those 9 faculty.... The committee is well aware that all faculty committees according to bylaws are "advisory" and the Dean has the authority to make the final decision. However, in light of the nearly complete reversal, it seems that there was little balanced consideration for the collective decisions of the faculty committee - and for our effort to maintain high academic standards. We believe that the promotion of some of these individuals will almost certainly decrease the expectations for aspiring young faculty and untimately result in decrease in overall academic standard. Furthermore, should this trend continue, it will become increasingly difficult to find faculty to serve on the Promotion and Tenure committee since it will be perceived as superfluous. ... As chief executive you must do what you perceive best for the institution. As chair of the faculty promotion and tenure committee, I must also do what I believe is best for the School and faculty. Therefore, I must hereby formally resign from the committee as a result of the profound discordance in the committee's considered recommendation and your final decisions." It is not hard to get the original document to prove the validity of the content, since this letter has been distributed to many faculty members.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

Dean Barbara Atkinson, you have been lying all along. Now you lied to the public by broadcasting your lie. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, do you want a liar to lead the KUMC? Faculty, staff, students, postdocs, and alumni, do we want a liar to lead the KUMC?

In Gray-Little's broadcast email, we learnt already that Barbara Atkinson wanted to get rid of Klaassen. But the real question is: when will Gray-Little fire Barbara Atkinson?

We want this liar, Barbrara Atkinson, to get out of way of KU's mission towards excellence. What she did and said were not consistent, and her actions were absolutely not ethical.

tired_of_your_whining 6 years, 11 months ago

TruthKUMC stop your whining. He was knocked down a peg and that is that. It has been a long time in coming. If you are not happy at KUMC then don't let the door hit you in the rear!!! This is worse than watching candy being taken away from a baby. People don't get picked at random to be demoted. You should be old enough to understand that you are accountable for your actions and unprofessional behavior should not be tolerated by any organization.

KUfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

Watch your manners, tired_of_your_whining. The post by TruthKUMC is about Barbara Atkinson's honesty, not about firing Klaassen. Don't try to divert the topic and people's attention to the irrelevance, or try to threaten other readers who have the right to express their opinions freely on this website.

TruthKUMC 6 years, 11 months ago

tired_of_your_whining, stop your harrassement and presonal attack! No matter how angry you are, it won't stop the truth from being true, and the lie from being false.

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

Freedom of speech seems to be something in jeopardy around here. People have died and still die around the world to be free to express themselves without being jailed or killed. Well, in this country, you get fired.... Where is our Free world? what is it becoming...? Not so free anymore. Come on people, voice your opinions, join LJW, it's anonymous, don't be scared to say what you want. Participate to this forum. you can also go to the following blog and post there:

KCstudent 6 years, 11 months ago

You seem to be misunderstanding the meaning of freedom of speech. In the US, the Constitution is pretty clear about freedom of speech: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..." There's nothing in there about your right to say whatever you want without consequences. Freedom of speech simply means that the government cannot make laws or behave in a manner to oppress unpopular speech. This does not extend to employers. I've seen this brought up in the flyer that was circulated and now here, and it's simply incorrect.

That being said, I'm not particularly on either side of this debate. I'd like to see some evidence of all of these supposed atrocities Barbara Atkinson has brought upon the community. All I've seen is hearsay and whining. I don't claim she's a saint, but I'm not sure she's the monster people are making her out to be. If Klaassen was removed from his position because he behaved like a jerk and said something he shouldn't (which doesn't seem unbelievable given what I know about him), Atkinson was likely acting within her rights and job description to remove him from his position. That's simply how it works in the real world. You can say what you want, but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences. As adults, we're expected to behave civilly and show respect for our superiors, even when we disagree with them. I'm assuming that didn't happen in this case.

Perhaps Barbara Atkinson also needs a lesson in behaving civilly in the workplace, but I don't know since all I've seen is rumors and whining from upset "graduate students, postdocs, and faculty". I refuse to jump on the emotional bandwagon. You show me some evidence, and I'll give my support. To be honest, everything I've seen on this matter thus far has just seemed childish. I imagine there are appropriate channels to go through with complaints. Posting accusations without factual evidence is immature at best, libelous at worst. Everybody involved needs to grow up and discuss this like an adult, instead of just throwing around accusations.

Icount 6 years, 11 months ago

<< I imagine there are appropriate channels to go through with complaints. >> You must be kidding me. You can imagine and assume all you want. There is no such thing, isn't it obvious by now? And the evidence you are asking for is there, I'll assume you don't really want to see it or don't care enough to read it carefully.

concernedfaculty 6 years, 11 months ago

These comments are becoming absurd and are completely unprofessional. Innuendo and personal attacks have no place in any professional environment. I find it surprising that the authors of the comments believe that this mudslinging strategy will be effective. There should, and I believe will, be a strong response amongst the faculty recognizing that these personal attacks are not appropriate.

Freeelectron 6 years, 11 months ago

The letter giving the names of the Faculty that got demoted is true and for most of them there were no obvious reasons. It's hard to believe that they all behaved badly and that they were disrespectful of the Dean. Don't forget what has been going on in the past few years. The salary recovery plan that got everybody fired up against the Dean. Have most of you already forgotten about that plan because in the end it got kinda buried? As for evidence, people should upload on this website as documents the letters and other communications they would like to share with us. Some have already done so. This was the talking points of the faculty that met with the Chancellor early 2010 This is the letter from the Chancellor to the Dean in August in response to the meeting she had with the concerned KUMC faculty. Has anything changed so far? A few meetings between the Dean and The Faculty happened following that letters but nothing really changed in the end. So, please read them and you will see that the problems are not just about the recent case of Curt Klaassen but started way before that on so many different levels. One good and simple solution would be that the Dean starts listening to her Faculty, but so far even after the letter from the Chancellor it has not happened yet.

OnionHead 6 years, 11 months ago

My, my, Mr. Pulitzer. Yellow journalism is alive and well.

Icount 6 years, 11 months ago

Is your head really an onion? Just asking.

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