Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kansas University Medical Center professor censured for unprofessional behavior

June 14, 2012


Kansas University Medical Center leaders on Thursday censured one of its top researchers after finding that he engaged in abusive and unprofessional treatment of faculty and staff.

Curtis D. Klaassen, a university distinguished professor and former chairman of the department of pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutics, faced a faculty hearing at the end of May. The committee heard allegations of his behavior, including allegations that he instituted an “English-only” rule in the department, and used PowerPoint slides at a faculty meeting that featured images of soldiers with guns pointed outward from a circle indicating that those inside the department must protect each other.

Klaassen had argued that the allegations had been blown out of proportion and that the university was responding to his inquiries into the decision-making of Barbara Atkinson, who was then serving as the executive vice chancellor of KUMC and the executive dean of the School of Medicine.

The censure notice issued on Thursday stated that the committee found Klaassen’s conduct to be “unprofessional, abusive, disruptive and unacceptable.”

Steven Stites, acting executive vice chancellor for KUMC, informed the KUMC community of the censure in an email on Thursday.

“I hope that Dr. Klaassen’s censure brings closure to a situation that went on for too long at our institution,” Stites wrote. “I expect our faculty to uphold the highest professional standards, conducting themselves as models of grace, humility and respect. In doing so, we will create an environment free of fear, where everyone can be successful.”

Included with the email was a letter of apology from Klaassen, in which he expressed appreciation for the time of the faculty committee that investigated the matter and the opportunity to continue his research and mentorship of the many people in his lab.

“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the University of Kansas Medical Center Campus for any actions that may have embarrassed the University and Medical Center community and colleagues or caused colleagues to feel abused or harassed,” the letter read. “It was never my intention to bring dishonor or disrespect to the University.”

Klaassen becomes the fifth member of the faculty to be censured by KU since December 2010. Gerald Lushington, director of the K-INBRE Bioinformatics Core and director of the Molecular Graphics and Modeling Laboratory, and Mahesh Visvanathan, research assistant professor in the K-INBRE Bioinformatics Core Facility, were both censured following a plagiarism incident in October 2011.

Dennis Sander, an associate professor of architecture, was publicly censured in July 2011 after an altercation involving a parking ticket, and David Guth, associate professor of journalism, was censured in December 2010 for engaging “in unprofessional, threatening, and abusive behavior towards another faculty member.”


Steve Jacob 5 years, 11 months ago

I totally get the “English-only” rule at a hospital. You want all parties to know exactly whats going on.

johnnyC1987 5 years, 11 months ago

I work in a pharmacy and you have no idea the problems that a language can cause when trying to serve non-English speakers. It's frustrating because all we want to do is give them the same service that everyone else deserves but are impeded by this language barrier. I fear that they are not able to make the same informed decisions about their own health that English speakers make because they don't understand everything we are saying.

This problem is compounded in hospitals because time is much more of the essence. When lives are at stake, this becomes a real issue.

I empathize for both sides, but especially Klaassen. This doesn't excuse any of his other behavior though.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 11 months ago

I recall one time standing in line at a pharmacy when a Spanish speaker was being served by a pharmacist who spoke (Mandarin, or was it Cantonese?). Neither spoke English well enough to understand the other. Eventually, I was asked to interpret, as I could clean up their English enough to then "translate" for both.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

professors with a massive ego, what's new? You can witness their gigantic heads at Hyvee. They barely fit through the doors. They're also usually lost and look like a 5 year girl could beat them up.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

and this guy sounds like a bully. he probably deserves far worse than censure. the best way to deal with a bully is to punch them right in the face.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

which reminds me of the time I was with my parents as a kid staying in a condo in CO. There was some physics conference something or another goin on in town and the place was overrun with nerds. One nerd was staying at our condo complex. So my dad starts grilling steaks on his Weber when the biggest East Coast geeky professor comes out on his 2nd floor porch yelling at us to stop making so much smoke. I'm taking in a really abusive manner, like he was some kind of little dictator. I'll never forget it when my 6'4" 220 lb father stood up and invited him to come down to discuss it. The professor slinked right back inside, shut his window and we never saw or heard from him again.

these types are all the same

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 11 months ago

I agree. However, this is not limited to professors or even white collar professionals.

Have you ever tried to ask a plumber or a car repairman a question about the work they are doing? You often get the same sort of dismissive arrogance. The "don't bother me, just trust me" smugness. Drives me crazy.

KEITHMILES05 5 years, 11 months ago

Why do you hate on intelligent people? LOL

Bob Reinsch 5 years, 11 months ago

Jack, when you paint with a broad brush, you end up with messed-up shoes.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

I'm not painting with a broad brush, I'm talking about a certain kind of personality that thinks they can push other people around, but are basically just weak little wimps when you get down to brass tacks. They get used to people not standing up to them and when someone finally does the look on their chubby little midget face is always priceless. It's not limited to professors, there are lots of lawyers with the exact same personality disorder. In fact, you can see some of the worst perpetrators waling the stairways of Green Hall. Look for the ones with beards. They're always the absolute worst.

Jean Robart 5 years, 11 months ago

Jack--I assume you no longer have your beard.....

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

That only applies to weak girly men that grow beards to try to compensate for their small stature. When you are over 6 feet you can pretty much call your own shots. It's the magic height.

Phoghorn 5 years, 11 months ago

My oh my are we a sensitive lot these days...

Phoghorn 5 years, 11 months ago

What's next, a Physics professor getting a reprimand for telling a clean and lighthearted joke about a Chemist.

Phoghorn 5 years, 11 months ago

The biggest threat to the United States of America is Namby-Pambyism.

Jean Robart 5 years, 11 months ago

Dr Steven Stites is a man of great integrity, and I believe him when he makes statements. He is one of my own doctors, and cares very much for patients,

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 11 months ago

Why is the competition and infighting in academia so high?

Because the stakes are so low.

took_the_money_and_ran 5 years, 11 months ago

I don't suppose we could get a copy of that Power Point presentation? It sounds great actually, and much less dull than many I have sat through.

verity 5 years, 11 months ago

First of all, I've worked with many people in academia, medical and otherwise, in Kansas and elsewhere, and the statements, generalizations and assumptions being made here are really out of line. Sounds like the worship of the uneducated and sliming of intelligence is working. I've worked with many people who had much more education than me and were probably a lot more intelligent, but who respected my expertise in my field and were grateful for any help I could give them. Of course, some were jerks, but they were by far the minority.

I find the current degrading of those who are educated to be disturbing and even frightening. Are we going for the lowest common denominator? How many of you are alive today because of the research pharmacologists have done?

I don't know Dr. Curtis Klaassen, but if you google his name you will find that he is a person of some renown and has received awards from other countries. As posters here have commented, there may have been a good reason for the English only rule. Five censures in one and one-half years seems a bit excessive. One really has to wonder if there isn't something else going on here.

ratinacage 5 years, 11 months ago

First, this wasn't a doctor at the hospital, its a researcher in a lab. When you see 'University of Kansas Medical Center' or 'KUMC,' they're referring to the university. 'KU Hospital' is the hospital. Completely different entities.

Klassen is/was a tyrant. Find anyone working in that department and they'll tell you horror stories - only the beginning of which was refusing to remember or even try to know the names of his staff, whom he forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions, only in front of a microscope, not a sewing machine. Others in his department are literally scared of what he'll do from day to day.

Censure is ridiculous. Tenure is ridiculous. If you can't fire someone for abusive behavior and creating a nightmarish work environment, something's really wrong.

Hexgirl 5 years, 10 months ago

You have no idea what you are talking about. Go ask the 100+ people who have worked in his lab. His lab is well funded and attracts among the best scientists in the world. The resources his students and fellows have to be able to conduct studies and publish papers are tremendous. He garners loyalty from his previous students and fellows like few other scientists I have worked with. I worked in the "sweatshop" for 4+ years and they were some of the best years of my life.

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