Archive for Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chancellor’s actions at med school, athletics dept. will speak loudly

November 5, 2011


Years ago a popular Kansas University chancellor told this writer, “Being a chancellor at KU could be an enjoyable experience if it were not for problems at the medical school, the athletic department/football coaches and the journalism school.”

That was years ago and today KU Chancellor Gray-Little faces two-thirds of the same troubles which have plagued chancellor after chancellor. There are serious problems at the university’s medical school and continuing problems within the athletics department. Right now, at least publicly, there don’t appear to be any serious problems relative to the journalism school.

The basic problem at the medical school seems to center on poor leadership.

A recent evaluation of Barbara Atkinson, the school’s dean, who also carries the title of executive vice chancellor, was not good. In fact, it was described as being “shockingly bad.” It is a bad situation and it is up to Gray-Little to correct.

This past week another incident at the school offers evidence of how Atkinson deals with those on her staff, particularly those with different ideas.

Some months ago Atkinson fired Dr. Curtis Klaassen as dean of the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutics. He is one of seven Distinguished Professors at the school; he has brought numerous million-dollar grants to the school; and he has a national and international reputation in his field of study.

He has an intense loyalty to the school and is passionate about his department. He is not afraid to speak up and voice his concerns. Atkinson’s reputation among many at the school is that she rules by intimidation and that any differences of opinion are “settled ‘her way’ with those with differing opinions told to ‘take the highway.’” This is what happened to Dr. Klaassen this past summer.

Earlier this week Dr. Klaassen was working in his office and visiting with an official from the National Institutes of Health. Without any prior announcement, two armed police officers entered Dr. Klaassen’s office, accompanied by one or two other medical school people, and told Dr. Klaassen he was to leave immediately. They took him out of his office, took his identification or badge that allowed him to enter the building, took away his access to his KUMC email account and told him he was not to set foot on the campus for a month.

He was told the reason for this action was that he speaks too loudly, which frightens and upsets others, and that there are questions about whether he has misspent some of the NIH grant money.

Dr. Klaassen may be a demanding scientist, teacher and researcher, but he is fiercely loyal to those with whom he works and to the school as a whole.

Since his eviction, he now is unable to work with his students, even though he has students coming from Japan and he is leaving next week to deliver a lecture or perhaps several lectures in China. He says he receives up to 200 emails a day, many of which may be of great importance to the school, and now those trying to communicate with him have no idea about what is going on and how this might affect the school.

Unless there are some extreme situations, wouldn’t it have been better to let Dr. Klaassen know that Atkinson intended to ask him to leave his office and that he should not come to work rather than to have two armed police officers handle the matter in the way they did, marching him out and to his car in front of the NIH official, his students and other faculty members?

Faculty members were shocked but tell this writer this is the way Atkinson operates and why there is such confusion, poor morale and lack of respect for Atkinson within the school.

Friday afternoon KU medical school people told this writer the situation at the school could be likened to the famed “OK Corral shootout,” which was reported to have lasted four minutes. But, according to these medical school observers, what is going on in Kansas City at the school has lasted four years, not four minutes, with many fatalities and lasting injuries.

Many medical school staffers said Atkinson has humiliated and is trying to destroy Dr. Klaassen by the way he was marched through the building. They say they are “scared” to talk to Klaassen for fear Atkinson will learn about it and retaliate in some harmful manner. “She is trying to destroy him,” one staffer said. “It is a campus full of fear,” the staffer continued.

Klaassen, by the way, is the sixth-highest cited pharmacologist in the world (that is how often their research is cited by other scientists); he is the sixth-highest NIH-funded pharmacologist/toxicologist last year from NIH; since he was fired in March, he obtained a $10 million grant from NIH.

Atkinson’s critics suggest she is eager to terminate Klaassen and take his grants for other uses.

Gray-Little has a serious problem, and how she handles it will say a lot.

In regard to the athletics department, Gray-Little inherited a tough and ugly situation with former Athletics Director Lew Perkins. Perkins had done away with the athletics board and replaced it with a group he thought he could control. He hired Turner Gill as his football coach at a salary that shocked individuals who know about college football compensation packages.

So far, Gill has failed to deliver on the grand projections of Perkins. In fact, up until today’s game the program appears to have regressed under Gill’s leadership.

Alumni and friends of the university are becoming louder in their criticism of the football program. Many of the critics are generous contributors to various university programs in addition to their fiscal help for the athletics department. This is not a good situation with a long-delayed capital campaign due to get a public launch next spring.

Perkins’ replacement, Sheahon Zenger, is in a tough spot. Unless Gill turns the program around there will be intense pressure to terminate Gill’s contract.

Some wonder, however, if Gray-Little will allow Zenger to take such action, whether she has told Zenger she will not sign off on such an action and that he will have to go to the Regents if he should decide to replace Gill.

It’s a bad and unfortunate situation but for whatever reason, athletics and the football coaching matter continue to be major issues for KU chancellors.

As has been mentioned in a previous column, how Gray-Little handles the medical school/Atkinson matter and the football coaching headache will say a great deal about the chancellor.

Again, what is Gray-Little going to do? Will the Regents enter the picture? Who will be coaching the KU football team next fall? Is anyone going to step up and take control, show leadership and regain the excitement, excellence and enthusiasm that used to be the hallmark of Kansas University?


kansasplains 6 years, 4 months ago

I was one of the first fans of Gray-Little when she first arrived. Now, however, I feel that she should be leaving the university and that someone who has leadership qualities should take her place. One of the reasons that she is paid so well is because she needs to exercise leadership, but over and over again she has not done so. To me, it's a very unfortunate situation, because I strongly supported her at first, as did so many other people.

Leading a strong university is a very important thing, but you have to LEAD!.

And by the way, I do not see football as a strong point in the work that the university should really be doing. I realize, however, that many others think differently.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 4 months ago

Is the J-W going to do any kind of investigative piece on the multiple KC media reports that (1) Perkins had for all intents and purposes gotten Jim Harbaugh hired but wouldn't agree to Harbaugh's simple request to coach Stanford in its bowl game before coming to KU and thereby lost him, and (2) immediately thereafter Perkins was ordered to make the same offer to Gill that had been made to Harbaugh ($2 million per year for 5 years with no buyout), which Gill immediately accepted?

KU_cynic 6 years, 4 months ago

Are you kidding? About the only person who thought that KU had any kind of shot at Harbough was LJW sports writer Tom Keegan, and I'm not sure what he was smoking when he expressed that idea publicly.

Think about, Jim Harbough leads Stanford to an 11-1 regular season and an Orange Bowl berth against Virginia Tech (which Stanford won), all the while being the subject of speculation about returning to Michigan as head coach or going to the NFL, which he did as now-coach of the Forty Niners who are at the top of the NFC West with a 6-1 record.

It's absolutely ludicrous to suggest that Harbough would come to KU.

KU is a football backwater and always has been. The idea that KU can throw money at a marquee coach and get him to come to Lawrence is just insane.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps so, but there's been substantial reporting on it in Kansas City.

irvan moore 6 years, 4 months ago

thank you for pointing out the obvious, bgl needs to pull the plug on tg, her guy, her responsibility.

Bob Reinsch 6 years, 4 months ago

Based on what I've heard, if a high-character distinguished professor was treated the way Dr. Klaassen without just cause, the person responsible for the treatment would have been dismissed in a heartbeat. The fact that this action took place and Dr. Klaassen was told to stay away for a month ought to give anyone pause. The other side of the story is missing. This is a human resources issue, and should be treated as a private matter between an employer and an employee. After one ponders this editorial with an open-mind, one might come to the conclusion that this might be an attempt by a high-profile professor to gain public sympathy prior to the facts of the case coming to light and in so doing damaging the process that needs to be allowed to run its course for the best interests of the university.

kujayhawk7476 6 years, 4 months ago

Chancellor Gray-Little is a completely ineffective leader, motivator, face of the university and administrator and should resign or be replaced immediatelty by the Regents. A bad hire whether for football coach or chancellor is a bad hire and should be handled with no delays.

Should Dr. Zenger decide to replace coach Gill, is she not willing to support this action because both she and the coach are black? I hope that's not the case.

Evidently Gray-Little is incapable of managing leaders because it sounds as if Barbara Atkinson should be kicked to the curb immediately or at a minimum, severly reprimanded and put in her place. However, milk-toast personality as she is, Gray-Litle doesn't have the mettle to deal with Atkinson, so I'm sure all this will be swept under the rug quickly.

Mr. Simons, thank you for bring the medical school situation to our attention.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Is any coach worth a $10 million golden parachute?

The problems began long before Gill arrived and Gray-Little as well. The problem is reckless spending of money to keep "supporters" happy for which there is no foundation.

These golden parachutes should be eliminated from all university contracts for they are detrimental to the education institution and demonstrate zero fiscal responsibility. Golden parachutes are so damn reckless not to mention offer little incentive to perform. Gill walks away with $10 million that could fund a number of academic scholarships that would benefit Kansas and the USA beyond belief.

Too many have bought into the facade that reckless big spending displays capability,smart choices and puts the school in neon lights or does it instead represent a fool's paradise?

There is no basis whatsoever to talk about Gray-Little is such negative terms for she had nothing to do with the situation.

Blame it instead on the corrupt politics of college athletics and the locals who want to be super Jayhawks that somehow screwed a number of old time season ticket holders out of their seats. Stinks to high heaven.

Neither Gill nor Gray-Little designed these corrupt college contracts!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

"Atkinson should be kicked to the curb immediately or at a minimum, severly reprimanded and put in her place."

Not that easy. Investigation is required. Staff people have rights. Thus far what we have is the Simons viewpoint to which he is entitled. Butttttttttt what is it we do not know?

WilburM 6 years, 4 months ago

There are many questions about due process and details re Dr. Klaassen. Where is the reporting here? This is a significant story; having it reported in an opinion piece raises lots of questions. If this occurred in any way resembling the report here, it's simply outrageous. What were the intermediate steps. What -- if anything -- has Dr. Klaassen done to so irk Barbara Atkinson?

There was a little reporting in April, but the catch-all "It's a personnel matter" argument was made to paper over Klaassen's initial firing. This definitely merits some serious digging.

I know Turner Gill gets more publicity, but for a University this situation seems far more serious and disturbing -- and big money is also at stake.

EmilyKUMC 6 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for pointing out this critical issue at KUMC Dolph! As an employee in KUMC, I can justify that the information in this article is accurate and right to the point. Dean Barbara Atkinson has been long known as an unethical and terrible leader at KUMC for years. It is to my and many other people's opinion that she should be requested to resign immediately. As a matter of fact, she should have been fired a long time ago. Her review, to the best of our knowledge, is shockingly bad. Most people severely criticized her leadership and requested her to be step down. Surprisingly, this review was made a secret between the Chancellor Gray-Little and Barbara Atkinson herself. Interestingly, Barbara wrote a broadcast email to everyone this week saying her review "was good" --- obviously another lie. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that there has to be a secret deal made between the chancellor Gray-Little and the Barbara Atkinson. Has Barbara bribed the chancellor? How much money or other hidden benefit did Barbara offer to bribe other administrative officers? Barbara Atkinson, you are such an embarrassment to our institution, and your little dirty trick to Dr. Curtis Klaassen is such a childish revenge and a big joke. The new issue brought up by this press release demonstrates that Barbara Atkinson should not only be fired immediately, but also should face legal reprisal.

HumanRight 6 years, 4 months ago

You hit the issue right on, Dolph! Barbara Atkinson should be out of town right away. She is destroying the very core infrastructure of the basic and clinical research at KUMC, and it is impossible to get a Cancer Center funded by NIH with a such a leader of terrible reputation. Dean Barbara Atkinson is a dean of failure in the KU history, and furthermore, her recent actions clearly demonstrated that she has lost been emotionally compromised and totally lost self control for professional performance. Her revenge against the well respected leader Curtis Klaassen, is an example of her defamation of character. Barbara Atkinson you belongs in jail.

Phillbert 6 years, 4 months ago

Whatdoyaknow, two brand new commenters slamming Atkinson. (Bribery accusations even!) Guess when you are on leave you have plenty of time on your hands to create sock accounts.

If KU is anything it is risk averse and lawsuit averse. It is very unlikely it acted without cause, because doing so would result in it losing the inevitable lawsuit.

But today's big winner is the commenter who took Dolph's veiled reference and doubled down with an unveiled race card.

charles2011KUMC 6 years, 4 months ago

In an era of KUMC's changing for excellence, we need to make a lot of changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the admnistrations. Accumulating evidence indicates that removing Barbara Atkinson is the first and most important task KU needs to do in the huge endeavor of achieving excellence. This transition, which is a big step in the changing for excellence plan, may hurt some people's pride, however, in order to realize the untimate goal of excellence, KU definitely needs a more qualified Dean and EVC. Barbara Atkinson, who has lost respect from people, should definitely be fired. There has been so many complaints about her from both the basic science deepartment and the clinical side in the past 6 years. Chancellor Gray-Little needs to show her leadership and select a new chancelor to end her dark period of ruling with fear.

KUfan1990 6 years, 4 months ago

Dean Atkinson's actions are like that of a malignant tumor, invading the vital organs of the body of the KU Medical School. The faculty that risked their careers to give honest reviews of the Dean, are the backbone of KU that I admire. The cancer is metasticizing. Treatment works best when it is caught early. The symptoms are persistent, and the chancellor needs to make the diagnosis, apply treatment, and let the body of KU heal.

firstjayhawk 6 years, 4 months ago

I am an employee in KUMC for many years, and I am strongly against Barbara Atkinson. I don't have any faith or trust in her leadership. She has remained as the dean for 8 years and EVC for 6 years, with no internal or external review or other forms of evaluation. Because of this, she has serious issues of power abuse, financial issues (e.g. no transparency in how she uses the millions of dollars of funds to the university), and human right violation. Regarding Atkinson's long over-due reviews, the question is why it should remain a secret matter, and only the dean and the chancellor have access to it. In my opinion this has lost the meaning of performing a review in the first place. How could Atkinson and the chancellor gain trust in their leadership, if so many things regarding the dean is considered unspeakable mysteries? These reviews should be made accessible to all the KUMC employees that participated in the evaluation, and they should be made available to the public. Barbara Atkinson must removed from KUMC immediately. The longer she remains, the more damage she will make to the infrastructure of the education, research, and clinical care at our institution.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 4 months ago

Hard to know truth from fiction in this situation. However, the facts are not favorable to Atkinson. The fact that so many respected researchers have raised concerns, and that Atkinson has fired one of the most successful researchers in Kansas history, are troubling. I know of at least one other case of a distinguished professor being "forced out" because of a dispute with Atkinson. If you lose the support of the faculty and research leaders, something is terribly wrong.

Atkinson has had a single-minded focus, receiving NCI designation. I applaud her leadership in this regard, as cancer research and treatment at KUMC have expanded exponentially. The problem is that Atkinson took every resource, every dollar and scrap of space, to further the cancer effort. In doing so she angered non-cancer researchers (e.g. Klaassen). Her response to these people that she had "robbed" was draconian and intemperate.

Whether or not it is her fault, I think Atkinson has become too polarizing to continue as an effective leader of KUMC. She should probably resign or be replaced.

susan2 6 years, 4 months ago

During Barbara Atkinson's tenure as the dean and EVC, Atkinson is well known for her poor financial solvency, being impossible to work with, and ruling with fear (the most recent example is probably ordering armed policemen to get rid of the university distinguished professor Klaassen, an obvious revenge of her "shockingly bad review"). Her next steps are probably ordering the Gestapos to get rid of all others who wrote "bad reviews" of her, as she's got the "magic list" from Gray-Little. The review committee's promise that "you will never be personally associated with the review" is therefore pure crap. This reminds us of the atomosphere in Germany during the World War II, and the high correlations between the Atkinson's leadership style and that from Adolph Hitler. If the "Atkinson tumor" is not removed immediately, it will probably cause lethality for the KUMC and especially to the application of the cancer center. The chancellor needs to show her leadership now, because even if she doesn't the administrators above will. Issues at KUMC cannot be simply ignored. Atkinson needs to step down now.

WorstDeanEver 6 years, 4 months ago

This article indeed brings some fresh air. Barbara Atkinson should definitely be fired. She is such a terrible administrator. Like Dr. Curtis Klaassen, my research and life are also damaged by this woman. Atkinson has been directly or indirectly harassing /threatening me many times. She is destroying my career. I hope she is gone for ever.

godyku 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, Barbara Atkinson's uncivilized actions should be terminated immediately, and she should not only be replaced, but also should face legal reprisal and public censorship. Here I am not only speaking for my colleague Curt Klaassen, who always has my personal respect for his research integrity and academic accomplishment; I am also speaking up for many other basic researchers who have the same concerns about Barbara Atkinson for her immoral leadership. There are so many complaint letters about the dean and her evaluation further proves that she is incompetent. However, people's opinions are simply ignored or are used by the dean to identify her enemies and then destroy them. In my opinion it is ultimately disgusting to use armed policemen to settle someone's personal issues and gain personal pleasure by destroying other human beings. I have never heard of such ungly things in academia. Barbara Atkinson should apologize to Curtis Klaassen immediately, and pay off all the loss of his research and other associated losses as a consequence of her "policemen drama". Chancellor Gray-Little needs to make the review of Atkinson transparent, and the Board of Regents should show leadership to clarify the complicated relationships between the chancellor and the dean, and unveil all the dirty secrets in administration. I truly hope that we will get rid of this terrible dean and EVC immediately.

fu7il3 6 years, 4 months ago

"and that there are questions about whether he has misspent some of the NIH grant money."

Woah, am I the only one that thought this got glossed over too quickly? If that was the case and there would be some sort of investigation, wouldn't you expect them to get him out of the office without having the chance to get rid of any records?

Maybe Atkinson is a problem. Beats me, I have nothing to do with it. I am just amazed at how little attention allegations of this sort received.

OlayKU 6 years, 4 months ago

Barbara Atkinson is not a good leader. She should simply go.

OnionHead 6 years, 4 months ago

All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach. Adolf Hitler

Jessicacarlson 6 years, 4 months ago

Barbara Atkinson is the root of all evil here. She should be fired from E.V.C immediately. Also she should not simply walk away with her problems left behind. She should correct these mistakes one-by-one, and apologize to all the victims that she attacked. Regarding hiring, the university should recruit a new E.V.C. and a new dean of SOM immediately. We should not allow this woman to make further damage to our be-loved institution.

ObserverAtKU 6 years, 4 months ago

Yes, it appears that the chancellor did share the information on Atkinson's confidential review with Barbara Atkinson. The first supporting evidence is that Barbara Atkinson fired a female professor from an administrative postion a while ago. After this female professor submitted her review on Barbara Atkinson, Barbara Atkinson fired her again from her current position within the last 3 weeks. The second example is of course Dr. Curtis Klaassen. Barbara Atkinson fired Dr. Klaassen this April (because he spoke up requesting for joint governance, democracy, and leadership transparency). After Dr. Klaassen submitted his review on Barbara Atkinson, two armed policemen were sent and forced Dr. Klaassen to leave campus. Now Dr. Klaassen cannot access his office; his computer s were taken; his email was blocked for a long time; he cannot talk to his graduate students and postdocs; he cannot review student's manuscripts or research protocols; he has important international lectures in another country, but the administration would not allow him to access his powerpoint slides or his business cards;he is on the committee for FDA and the B.B. Browdie award, but the administration blocks his access to all the related documentation in his office.There are many other examples going on with people who recently reviewed Barbara Atkinson. This is what's actually going on right now in KU Medical Center.

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