Barbara Atkinson, who serves as executive dean of Kansas University’s School of Medicine and as executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center, has announced her intention to step down from those roles.
“As we complete the finishing touches to our yearlong strategic planning process, the chancellor and I have agreed that I will step down as dean of the School of Medicine,” Atkinson wrote in a message to faculty and staff Thursday. “In an effort to provide a seamless transition and a thoughtful succession plan, I have agreed to serve as the (executive vice chancellor) for another two years until December 2013. The process for selecting the new dean will begin immediately.”
As executive vice chancellor, Atkinson oversaw all of the schools housed at KU Medical Center, including the School of Medicine, the School of Health Professions (formerly known as the School of Allied Health) and the School of Nursing, in addition to her role as dean of the medical school. Plans are under way at the Med Center to add a new School of Public Health.
“I just had another birthday, so it was time to think about a transition,” said Atkinson, who is 69.
She will remain in both roles until a new dean of the medical school is selected. KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said a search committee is being formed to find a new dean, and she said she hoped to fill the position by next summer. She added that a search for a new executive vice chancellor for the Medical Center will begin in about a year.
Atkinson said that both she and Gray-Little would be involved in the hiring of the new dean — “it has to be the both of us,” Atkinson said.
Gray-Little said she and Atkinson had been in discussions about a plan to separate the two positions, and the discussion of the timetable for Atkinson’s retirement came up more recently.
“I think it would be very hard for someone to just step into both roles,” Atkinson said. “They are two very big jobs.”
Gray-Little said she was impressed with the things Atkinson has been able to accomplish during her tenure at KU Medical Center, including providing resources for National Cancer Institute designation, increasing the level of federally funded research on campus, leading changes to the medical curriculum and making improvements to facilities on the campus.
“She’s accomplished a great deal, and I think the Medical Center is far ahead of where it was when she came there,” Gray-Little said.
Atkinson said she was also pleased to lead the expansion of medical school education in Wichita and Salina.
Atkinson joined the KU medical school in 2000 to lead the department of pathology and laboratory medicine. She was named executive dean of the medical school in 2002, and has led the campuses in Wichita and Kansas City since then. She added the executive vice chancellor role in 2005.
“That’s a pretty long time for someone to serve in those two roles,” Gray-Little said.
The decision to separate Atkinson’s two roles also means that the university will get another seat on the KU Hospital Authority Board, as the hospital’s bylaws provide for seats for both the executive vice chancellor and the dean of the medical school. Once a new dean is named, that person will also become a voting member of the board, along with the executive vice chancellor’s position.
Both Gray-Little and Atkinson said the transition should not have a significant impact on KU’s ongoing efforts to achieve National Cancer Institute designation.
“I think that it should not affect it at all,” Gray-Little said.
If KU hears whether its application had been approved by next summer as it expects to, Atkinson will have remained on during the entire time, Gray-Little said, especially during an upcoming site visit and review by the NCI scheduled for February.
There is still work to be done, both Gray-Little and Atkinson said. In her message to faculty and staff, Atkinson outlined four measures that she would be working on during the remainder of her term as executive vice chancellor: achieving NCI designation, opening the new public health school, expanding the class size of the Kansas City medical school by 50 students, and strengthening KUMC’s ties to Wyandotte County and improving the health of the community.
“I’ve got the next two years to work on my next top priorities,” Atkinson said. “Then after that, I’m going to retire.”