Kansas University School of Medicine faculty members and students had hoped the current school year would start with a new dean. Even if he or she wasn’t able to move into the dean’s office by the start of classes, it would have been nice for the name of the new dean to be known.
This past April, former dean and executive vice chancellor, Barbara Atkinson, announced her intention to resign from her dual posts on July 1. Prior to this announcement, she had reluctantly agreed to ask for an evaluation of her leadership by medical school faculty members, and the responses were reported to be “shockingly bad.” Morale at the school was not good, and it was hoped a new dean would bring enthusiasm, leadership, vision, excitement and energy to the school.
Unfortunately, there is no new dean.
After Atkinson’s sudden departure from the school, before her previously announced date to step aside, a committee was formed to seek and select prospective candidates for the deanship.
The search was conducted during May, June and July, and a large group of possible deans was reduced to five. Eventually, the committee selected a single individual they believed was the best of the group.
The name of this individual, a highly respected member of the medical school staff, was forwarded to KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who rejected it, saying she wanted two or three candidates to choose from, not a single nominee.
This shocked, angered, puzzled and disappointed many at the medical school. Also, it was embarrassing to the well-known and admired faculty member who had been selected and recommended by the search committee.
Now, the committee has the task of initiating another search exercise and then forwarding those names to the chancellor. This is expected to delay the hiring of a new dean for the medical school for another three to six months unless the original choice is approved by the chancellor.
Will those on the search committee go back and review the names and qualifications of those they previously had passed over and/or rejected, or will they build an entirely new list of candidates?
Is there any guarantee the name of the previously selected individual will be on the new list sent to the chancellor? What are the chances the individual the chancellor turned down will look more favorably on job offers he receives from other medical facilities?
The manner in which various KU search committees have performed their tasks in recent years has left many on the campus, as well as fans and alumni throughout the country, puzzled and disappointed.
In some cases, it seems search committees have ended their assignments by forwarding the names of those they select as being the “best of the lot” without a truly outstanding individual among the finalists. Wouldn’t it be better to start a new search rather than end up with a “second best” or “best we could cone up with” selection?
Hopefully, those on the medical school dean’s search group did a thorough and broad review of possible candidates setting high standards and requirements. Medical school faculty members have made it clear they are hungry for visionary leadership.
It’s hoped the chancellor’s rejection of the recommendation is not a signal she doesn’t think the individual chosen by the search team is not qualified, but rather that she thinks it more politically correct to have it appear she will make her selection from among two or three individuals, each supposedly having many strengths, but eventually select the search team’s top choice.
Medical school personnel and faculty and researchers on the KU campus did an excellent job in securing the National Cancer Center designation. It was a great effort!
However, as one senior medical school leader said, “We were operating with poor leadership under Barbara and now we are ‘toast’ until we find two more names to pass along to the chancellor and until she names a new dean. We cannot afford to stand still or merely drift. We need superior leadership to ignite the enthusiasm and excellence present at this school.”