It’s good that Barbara Atkinson will be stepping down as dean of the Kansas University School of Medicine but bad that she will remain on the job until a new dean is selected. It also is bad she plans to stay on as executive vice chancellor for two more years.
It is good KU Chancellor Gray-Little finally pulled the plug on Atkinson, but it didn’t happen until the chancellor finally was forced to call for a long-overdue review of Atkinson’s performance and the replies were “shockingly” bad. There wasn’t much choice for the chancellor other than to relieve Atkinson from the deanship position.
The big mistake is that Atkinson is being allowed to remain in both positions. She should have been relieved from both — right now rather than waiting for an undetermined period for a new dean to be selected and two more years as executive vice chancellor.
How can Atkinson be expected to carry out her duties when she is a “lame duck” and when she does not have the respect of the majority of her staff?
The manner in which the sad story has unfolded causes many at the medical school to suggest Atkinson “bullied” Gray-Little into the favorable settlement, just as she had bullied former chancellor Bob Hemenway and former dean Don Hagen in past years.
Medical school staffers told this writer there was a “collective sigh of relief” Thursday among medical school people when they learned about Gray-Little’s action. They said the chancellor did the right thing, but made a serious mistake by not making a clean, immediate removal of Atkinson’s dual positions.
“It’s crazy,” one senior staffer said. “We have a number of chair searches going on at this time, and who would want to make a commitment to the school when they have no idea who the dean and vice chancellor will be? It’s horrible!”
Many question the sequence in which Atkinson will leave — first as dean and then as vice chancellor. The dean reports to the vice chancellor and now the dean and vice chancellor (both Atkinson) along with the chancellor will be appointing her successor as dean. Why shouldn’t a NEW vice chancellor (not the lame duck vice chancellor and lame duck dean) have a voice in selecting the next dean?
Just to show Atkinson still considers herself a powerful and respected leader, she said both she and Gray-Little would be involved in the hiring of the new dean. … “It has to be both of us.”
One medical school critic said the current situation at the medical center is “too toxic and too unstable” to allow the current leadership to continue.
“The majority of our faculty applauds Gray-Little’s initial action, but she didn’t finish the job and her responsibility. Faculty members are absolutely livid that Atkinson will remain in her two positions for an undetermined period of time.”
It’s obvious Atkinson does not have the respect needed for a dean and vice chancellor. Faculty have no confidence in her and they despise many of her decisions.
To make matters worse, very much worse, is that when Gray-Little called for faculty members to participate in a review or assessment of Atkinson, it is believed by many at the school that Gray-Little showed the assessment letters to Atkinson in violation of her pledge of confidentiality. If true, this has severely damaged Gray-Little’s stature at the medical school.
Again, the big question is who would want to seek the deanship or other senior medical school positions when they don’t know or have any idea who will be dean or vice chancellor and the excellence, vision and records of these individuals in previous positions?
It remains a mess, and medical school people are asking the chancellor to reconsider her actions and make Atkinson’s departure immediate, in both offices.
For far too long the name of the game at the medical center has been “survive and political correctness” rather than ask questions or differ with Atkinson as a means of escaping the dean’s wrath and acts of retaliation.
The sad and sordid events at Penn State University should send a powerful message to every university in the country.
First of all, it shows the power of intercollegiate sports in NCAA Division I schools. Unfortunately, sports receive more attention than academics, with sport coaches usually the highest-paid university employees. Good coaches are almost untouchable. This was the case with Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
University curators decided to fire Paterno because it was best for the university, not best for society. This raises the question how universities are run and how much the public, and regents, actually know about their schools.
These universities, particularly the public schools, should be run with openness and the highest possible standards. It may be possible for private businesses to be run however their owners wish, but public universities are not private business and there is no excuse for cover-ups and questionable priorities.
The role of regents and curators is spotlighted by the Penn State situation. How much did they know or suspect, and when did they know or suspect, about the terrible sex abuse matters? Apparently the case in point wasn’t a single case as there were others and there had been prior investigations. Were curators told about these investigations and, if so, what did they do?
Every body of regents, whether in Kansas or other states, should get the message. They need to be far better informed about what is happening on the campuses they are supposed to oversee.
This has not been the case in Kansas and needs to be corrected. Failures, embarrassing situations, wrongful actions and poor leadership should not be tolerated. The public expects more. Consider what alumni, fans and the public in Pennsylvania are thinking today about the leadership and openness of those who run their university and coach the teams.