“Most of us are glad it’s over. Now we can focus our attention on other matters here at the school which need attention.”
Apparently this is the opinion of many at the Kansas University School of Medicine now that the school’s application for designation as a National Cancer Center has been reviewed by a panel of experts and is in the hands of those who will give it a “thumbs up” or a “try again.”
Winning a national cancer center designation was made KU’s No. 1 goal by former Chancellor Robert Hemenway. It has been a long, massive effort under the excellent leadership of Dr. Roy Jensen, assisted by a highly talented and dedicated staff and generous fiscal support by the state and private contributors.
Competition for the certification will be extremely tough, and tight federal budgets make it even more challenging. Whatever the outcome, Kansans can be assured the KU application was first rate.
“Other matters” refers primarily to the selection of a new dean and executive vice chancellor for the school. Both of these positions are held by Dr. Barbara Atkinson, and a search is under way to seek and screen applicants for the dean’s position.
Shortly after results of a long-delayed review of Atkinson were received and found to be “shockingly bad,” Atkinson announced she had been planning for some time to leave the deanship and then resign as executive vice chancellor. This was well received — in fact, enthusiastically received — by many medical school faculty members, but there was a catch: She was going to select her own successor, with the help of Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, and then help select the new executive vice chancellor.
She indicated this process might take as long as two years.
Many could not understand or believe she was given the privilege of determining her own timeline for her departure and that the dean would be selected before the new vice chancellor. Why shouldn’t the vice chancellor, supposedly the senior officer, be allowed to select the new dean?
Anyhow, the cancer center review is out of the hands of those at KU Hospital, and many want the deanship and vice chancellor matter settled as soon as possible.
Speculation is that now that the cancer reviewers have left town and there was no internal upheaval by faculty about the school’s leadership while the reviewers were in Kansas City, Atkinson might decide to speed her departure.
The report on the cancer center review is expected to be received in about six weeks, and some are suggesting Atkinson may time her move soon after that, probably before July 1. At the same time, there is concern she may want to try to take several others — particularly KU Hospital CEO Bob Page and Gray-Little — with her. “People outside the school really don’t realize or understand how strong this woman is,” a senior medical school staff member said. “In fact, she would like to take over the chancellor’s job. She’s incredible. People are making a big mistake if they underestimate her.”
Other speculation centers on the possibility of doing away with the two separate positions and again naming a single person to the combined role of dean and executive vice chancellor.
There’s bound to be increasing interest, guessing and rumors about the search and selection process. The level of leadership, respect and vision by the new dean and/or executive vice chancellor is critical, particularly after the Atkinson years.
Gov. Sam Brownback has made it clear he wants to see an improvement in the national rankings for the medical school. He sees the accomplishments and high national rankings of KU Hospital (a separate, non-state operation) and wonders why and what it will take to see similar rankings at the medical school. He has been told this will not come about as long as Atkinson is in a leadership position.
The spectacular rise in KU Hospital’s national stature came about through the tough, visionary and demanding leadership of Irene Cumming, followed by the hospital’s current leader, Bob Page. He and Cumming both enjoyed a strong board of trustees who helped fight the efforts of Atkinson, Hemenway and several major Kansas City leaders, who wanted to weaken KU Hospital and even the medical school in order to strengthen St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
That effort was stunted primarily because of Cumming and the hospital’s strong board of trustees. Atkinson reports only to Gray-Little, and this is a serious weakness and hindrance to the medical school rising in the national rankings.
Again, now that the cancer center review process is over, a large number of medical school faculty members are hopeful far greater attention will be focused on Atkinson and hiring a new dean and vice chancellor. A senior professor at the school told this writer, “It’s important that we now focus our attention on the leadership of the school and the many upcoming dramatic and sweeping changes which face the school.”
Visionary, respected leadership is the most critical, No. 1 change needed at the medical school.