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.”