Archive for Saturday, December 3, 2011

KU Med Center situation not as smooth as regents may think

December 3, 2011


Several weeks ago, Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Ed McKechnie wrote a letter to the Journal-World’s Public Forum in which he praised the accomplishments of Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the Kansas University Medical Center and dean of the KU School of Medicine.

He said “the current leadership is to be commended.” He noted the “organizational change” at the KU Medical Center in which Atkinson will step down as dean of the School of Medicine once a new dean is selected and retire as executive vice chancellor in two years. McKechnie added, “this orderly transition will allow KU Med to make continued progress.”

The Pittsburg businessman, who was appointed to the regents by former Gov. Mark Parkinson, said the organizational change with Atkinson remaining for another two years as boss of the school was done with steady, thoughtful consideration and that he wanted the public to know the Board of Regents is “working hard, working together, to make the Med Center the best it can be.”

This sounds great, and the letter obviously was written to dispel any concerns the public might have about the leadership, vision and morale of the medical center staff. It also was a way to send the message that the regents have been alert and on top of all that is going on at the medical school.

The fact is, the public has every reason to wonder whether the regents have had any idea what was going on at the school: the poor morale, frustration and dissatisfaction with Atkinson’s leadership. McKecnhie said he and KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little have had extensive discussions about the KU Medical Center.

If so, why didn’t they call for immediate changes and why would they allow Atkinson to remain as head of the medical center for another two years when the faculty is angry, disappointed and frustrated with how she runs things? Did the regents have any idea of the seriousness of the situation? Why did they allow Atkinson to determine the timing and conditions of her “organizational change”?

Rather than being on top of the situation, this is another case of the regents apparently being out of the loop on many facets of what is going on at KU, such as the recent serious troubles within the School of Business, the handling of the chancellor situation during the last four or five years of Robert Hemenway’s tenure and their total blindness to what was taking place under Lew Perkins’ leadership of the KU athletics department.

If they were not out of the loop, why didn’t they have the courage to take action and correct the situations? Will the public ever be told the results of the survey regents conducted among about 150 alumni, business leaders and other knowledgeable individuals at each regents university seeking opinions on the kind of job the presidents and chancellor were doing?

Getting back to the current situation at the medical school. Although McKechnie wants the public to think everything is fine and well planned, a growing number of KU medical school faculty members are terribly concerned.

The following are direct quotes from distinguished faculty members of the school. It is understandable that they wish to have their names held in confidence, particularly in light of the way Atkinson rules the school and the fact she intends to remain as the senior official for another two years — courtesy of the chancellor and the regents. Here’s what faculty members are saying:

• “Why can’t the Kansas Board of Regents act with the courage and decisiveness of the Oregon education board (which recently fired the former KU provost who was serving as president of the University of Oregon)?”

• “People are shocked she (Atkinson) plans to be here for another two years.”

• “We have to wait two years to see what is going to happen.”

• “There is nothing more the faculty can do; nothing has changed. We had the courage and honesty to fill out the assessment of Atkinson. What more can we do?”

• “What is Doug Girod (senior associate dean) to do? She (Atkinson) trots him out as her successor but doesn’t follow through and it could be two years. How long will he stay?”

• “The future of the school is hanging in the balance.”

• “We are going to lose many of our excellent people if they are expected to wait for two years to find out who is going to be their boss.”

• “The idea you could bring in someone from the outside and put them in charge to run the school is ridiculous. It would take them a year or more to find the bathrooms, not to mention to know all the players and how to run the school.”

• “We are in a catastrophic state financially.”

• “There is no faculty governance.”

• “We probably will have good people leaving in six months.”

• “It is reported she (Atkinson) handpicked most of the members of the committee to find a new dean.”

• “Don’t sell Atkinson short; she would like to be the chancellor.”

• “The chancellor and/or the regents are in a state of paralysis … It’s like walking through Jell-O around here.”

What are the regents thinking, what is the chancellor thinking when Atkinson’s own faculty give her a vote of no confidence?

Their assessment of Atkinson is clear. The faculty have done everything they can. They have placed themselves on the line and said how bad it is and how she operates. “What more can we do?” they ask. Now it’s up to Gray-Little and the regents to demonstrate they have the courage and commitment to do what is necessary to make the school as good as possible.

So far, they are acting like the three monkeys with their eyes, ears and mouths covered, signaling they will see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

These firsthand assessments of the situation today at the medical school don’t indicate everything is fine and progressing in an orderly and timely manner, as McKechnie and some senior people on Mount Oread would like the public to believe.


Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 1 month ago

There are 16 individuals quoted in this piece, plus one quote attributed to "they".

Only one of them is attached to a name. Let this be a lesson to you, School of Journalism students.

Phillbert 6 years, 1 month ago

Obsession: By Dolph Simons

A new fragrance smelling of sour grapes, available at fine retailers everywhere.

KUobservers 6 years, 1 month ago

I am very surprised that Barbara Atkinson still remains in actual power as both dean and EVC in University of Kansas Medical Center. It is a terrible idea to have her in leadership positions for another 2 years. During Barbara Atkinson's tenure at KUMC, she has angered so many researchers and other employees due to her unethical administrative decisions and poor financial management skills. Some professors said she also has issues of racial and gender discriminations. Her actions are against the university's regulations. The board of regents should really look into her review by all KUMC employees, as well as hundreds of complaint letters sent from many professors and students about Atkinson. If we don't listen to the opinions from the people, the situation at KUMC will get worse and worse. Barbara Atkinson should step down from EVC immediately, and a search committee should be seleted independently to ensure an impartial selection of the new leaders at both positions.

EmilyKUMC 6 years, 1 month ago

"Example: Mr. Perkins. Many wanted the Chancellor , Ms. Gray - LIttle to fire him. She did not have just cause."

At KU Medical Center, Dean Barbara Atkinson does not need a "just cause" to fire people ("personal issue that should not be discussed further"), so why should the Chancellor need a just cause???

jaydocs 6 years, 1 month ago

One intrinsic nature of Barbara Atkinson's leadership style is her actions in bullying, stress, and harassment in academia. It is indeed shocking that the board of regents would allow such actions in universities and ignore the negative consequences. From an educational and professional perspective, the growth in her unethical actions in the past 9 years present real challenges to the smooth running of education and research at KU Medical Center, particularly in terms of basic science and the education at SOM. Unfortunately, because she rules with fear, the employees who are victims of her attacks often find themselves defenseless because there are no authorities that would take the responsiblities to stop her unethical actions.This is the essence of the long-lasting problems.

Where such bullying or intimidating actions are carried out by Barbara Atkinson against other employees in academia, it is sumptomatic of a poor university infrastructure, which allows such behavior.

Barbara Atkinson's academic bullying have serious ramifications on both pesonal and professional level to the point where it can destroy other people's mental health in addition to the other losses, such as loss of university's reputation, and financial loss. For professors that are principle investigators of NIH grants, her academic bullying results in a loss of research productivity, workplace disruption, staff discontent, and disruption of education of graduate students. Aside from these considerations, the university's administration will also have to cover the cost of having to investigate and respond to complaints by employees, not to mention the cost of having to find a temporary replacement for both the perpetrator and the victims involved. Victims of Barbara Atkinson usually want bullying to come to an end, but are often powerless to stop it. Recent examples of Barbara Atkinson's bullying behavior include: underming basic scientists and especially non-cancer researchers' right to dignity at work; humiliation, intimidation, exlusion and isolation; as well as gender and racial discrimination. She should have stepped down from her leadership positions years ago, and there should have been an professional investigations on her academic bullying years nago. How many more years do we have to wait for the justics to be finally done? Barbara Atkinson should step down from positions as both dean and EVC immediately.

terminaltumor 6 years, 1 month ago

Barbara Atkinson's leadership lacks shared governance as indicator of an autocratic, top-down management style. For example, there is little to no transparency before or after on rationale for decisions, her centralization of most activities --- decisions regarding education and research are made without input of stakeholders, her high-level hires are routinely made without search committees. The recruitment process for the Cancer Center is chaotic rather than thematic, and is being carried out without the benefit of search committees. Despite the recommendation of “Time to Get it Right” report, and a formal external review of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, there has been no significant expansion of IGPBS. She decides not to honor commitments made in contract offers, or not to honor commitments in timely fashion. She also refuses to give adequate support and funding of research infrastructure. Consequently, there is a lack of coordinated transparent multi-year planning and this wastes limited institutional resources. She puts many strong education programs and research departments at risks, and she damages historically stronly academic programs. Faculty members are very frustrated about her, and we believe that her negative impact at KUMC should be terminated immediately. It is not suprising that she got a shockingly bad review from KUMC employees; what is really surprising is that such a EVC of failure still remains in power. She should be dismissed now.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 1 month ago

KUMC employees posting here are making some damning claims about Atkinson. I have no doubt that many of them are true.

My problem is that KUMC has traditionally been a very poor medical center in terms of basic and clinical research, and has been ranked near the bottom. KUMC has been outshone by regional medical centers such as Nebraska and Iowa. KUMC has improved since Atkinson was in charge, in all categories listed above. The Cancer Center application is but one example.

I suspect that many of the KUMC employees posting here have been at KUMC for a long time and it is they who presided over KUMC's mediocrity and lack of excellence before Atkinson.

Sometimes change and improvement require a strong leader who is not afraid to drag lethargic and mediocre faculty members kicking and screaming into the future. I am not saying this is necessarily the case with Atkinson, as she has clearly made some big mistakes, the biggest of which has been angering successful researchers who do not work on cancer.

I guess I am saying that mediocre faculty who are being told to improve or leave can harbor much ill will, which sometimes spills on to these posts.

EmilyKUMC 6 years, 1 month ago

It is possible that there is something behind the "Dolph bashing", but I don't see that it is warranted. Many are grateful that Mr.Simons is paying attention and giving voice to the many issues at KUMC-- a campus that has not ombudsman, advocacy committee or any other way to be heard without threat of reprisal. Other administrative offices that might be expected to be of assistance (HR, EOO) have only their jobs to loose if they actually perform those jobs effectively and to the letter of the law. Mr. Simons seems to be the only person in a position to tell the truth as the faculty and staff know it and not be subject to swift retaliation. At least someone is listening. We are very disappointed with the Regents, particular the dismissive editorial that appeared a few weeks ago. As to not naming names, Mr. Simons has done so at the request of individuals who have much to fear and to lose. It is true that there will be and has been an exodus of very talented people, but there are the quiet (for survival) majority--not wanting to be forced from a job, home and state they have loved and invested so much in; some others recognizing the potential economic disaster that they realistically face in trying to sell their homes should they decide enough is enough and want to leave: and not wanting to face unremitting bullying and acts of intimidation and isolation that not only erodes morale broadly, but has risen to the level of affecting the mental health and productivity of some, especially those who have no choice but to try to stick it out, It is a very sad state of affairs, when we have so much to be proud of with the tremendous success of KU hospital, the physician practice plan, the vibrant research and community-based programs and the talented students and trainees we are lucky to have. Our clinical practices and educational programs are still doing reasonably well, in spite of not because of the current administration. We are hopeful that this nightmare is resolved in a definitive, objective and just way,so that we can heal, recover from forced isolation and return our full attention to those things that matter most--education, research and service.

KUeye 6 years, 1 month ago

We appreciate the fact that at least one person is listening. A previous commenter may be right, if you polled folks entering a Walmart about whether they knew who Dr. Atkinson was, many wouldn't have a clue--true enough. For that matter there may be students, junior faculty and hospitalists who couldn't point her out in the hallways--and, that in itself speaks volumes. I suppose the commenter was trying to "put these matters in perspective". KUMC is the only medical school in Kansas and we are part of a whole University system that all would like to be proud of and not see negative publicity. The fact that there may be a number of people who don't know the leadership by name does not justify turning a blind eye to what has and will still go on at an institution serving your state, your families, your students and trainees and your communities for the next two years if we follow the current plan. The bottom line is that Barbara Atkinson should probably resign from EVC soon so that KU will have some fresh air.

OlayKU 6 years, 1 month ago

I would like to make a complaint of Barbara Atkinson's misconduct in rearranging research space: She took all research space from the Physiology Department; she took all research space of the Anatomy Department; she took part of reproductive biology space into HLSIC; she took much of Pathology research space; she took part of Liver Center space into HLSIC; she took some of the space in HLSIC to faculty without NIH grants. None of these decisions were discussed with faculty before. This is coercion rather than consensus, and this is a classic example of a bad leader. Does she want to destroy the basic science in KU Medical Center? Does she want to destroy the professors in KU Medical Center? Does she want to destroy the education programs and the PhD students in KU Medical Center? Let's get her out of here so people can work normally and stress-free.

Research 6 years, 1 month ago

Go home Barbara Atkinson. This has been such a big disaster to KU and I cannot believe that she is still in actual power for 6 months.

kansanbygrace 6 years, 1 month ago

In this context, we should take note that the University Hospital aspect of the med center is among the nation's very best in several categories. Since dividing from the administration of the SOM and research, their efforts have improved the hospital tremendously. Why do those with oversight and establishment responsibility (Regents) not pay attention and do something with the lag-behind Med Center and the drag-it-down administrator comparable to that which has improved the hospital to its current enviable status?

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