Friday’s Journal-World carried a story about Kansas University distinguished professor Curtis Klaassen receiving a censure from senior KU Medical Center officials for conduct considered “unprofessional, abusive, disruptive and unacceptable.”
Dr. Klaassen is one of the more distinguished professors at the medical center and he has been the center of an investigation related to his behavior, loud voice and expectations for students, other faculty members and those in the school’s administration.
The doctor’s closest friends and admirers acknowledge he has, on occasion, not behaved in an appropriate manner, but they also agree the investigation has gone on far too long, with many saying it was unwarranted.
Klaassen has issued an apology, saying, “It was never my intention to bring dishonor or disrespect to the university.” The internationally noted researcher may have been disruptive at times, but he played a significant and positive role in calling attention to problems in the school’s leadership. His censure also should send a strong signal to university employees of the danger of being a whistle-blower.
About two years ago Klaassen, along with several other KU School of Medicine faculty members, made a trip to Lawrence to visit with Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to tell her of their concerns about the leadership of Dr. Barbara Atkinson, who was both executive vice chancellor of the medical center and executive dean of the medical school. Later, he had another visit with the chancellor about Atkinson.
Dr. Steve Stites, now the acting executive vice chancellor of KUMC after Atkinson’s resignation, informed the medical center community of the actions against Klaassen, but he also pointed out that the censure brings closure to a situation that had gone on for far too long. Medical center personnel, he said, now should be able to operate in an environment free of fear.
In recent years, KUMC staff members talked about Atkinson managing the school through fear, intimidation and retaliation, and no one dared cross her or question her actions. One senior KUMC employee said the environment with Atkinson was “unimaginably awful.”
Klaassen had the commitment to the welfare of the school to speak up about Atkinson, and he paid the price, but he also started the action that eventually forced Atkinson to seek the required self-evaluation of her leadership from her faculty. She had refused to initiate such an examination, which, it is believed, Gray-Little made it clear she wanted. It is reported the survey came back with “shockingly bad” reviews.
The current environment within the medical school is totally different, with staff members eagerly awaiting the naming of a new dean and/or executive vice chancellor. Klaassen paid a high price for being a whistle-blower, but he, along with the others who visited with Gray-Little about conditions at the school are to be thanked and congratulated for having the courage to speak up.
Better days are ahead for the medical center, and there will be a much better, more cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with KU Hospital.