While not unprecedented at the University of Kansas, it’s been almost 60 years since KU tapped a medical doctor as its chancellor.
Douglas Girod may face a learning curve on the university’s main campus, where stakeholders say they’re optimistic about his leadership and listening skills. But people who have worked alongside Girod at the KU Medical Center say his medical experience, integrity and consensus-building abilities will translate to lead the entire university.
For example, imagine conducting a complex 12-hour head-and-neck-cancer surgery, which is Girod’s clinical specialty, said fellow KU doctor Robert Simari, executive dean of the KU School of Medicine.
“That’s all about planning and execution,” Simari said. “And it’s also about teams.”
Girod, 59, is executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center and a surgeon by trade. On Thursday the Kansas Board of Regents chose him as KU’s 18th chancellor, beginning July 1.
Girod has been at KU 23 years. He first joined the faculty in 1994, became chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in 2002, and became executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center in 2013.
An internationally respected otolaryngology — or ear, nose and throat — surgeon, Girod specializes in treatment of and reconstructive surgery following head and neck cancer. '
He also has a military background. He spent 15 years in the U.S. Navy Reserve and, prior to joining KU, was vice chairman and research director in the department of otolaryngology at the Naval Medical Center in Oakland, Calif.
Girod said one of his top goals as chancellor is ensuring the best “student experience” across KU.
“We’re an educational institution,” he said. “In the clinical world it’s all about the patient, and in this world it’s all about the student.”
Girod has overseen KU Medical Center outreach efforts, including the medical and nursing school campuses in Wichita and Salina. At the same time, the affiliated KU Health System continues to expand partnerships westward with the goal of serving all of Kansas.
That's another goal for Girod. With KU as Kansas’ flagship institution, the statewide mindset shouldn’t be limited to the medical center, Girod said.
“Absolutely we want that to continue in the health system side. Quite honestly, we want to continue that on the university side,” he said. “I’d like to leverage that and the other efforts that are already going on at KU to really reach out to every community in the state.”
● ● ●
Simari said he came to KU from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in 2014 because he wanted to work for Girod, whom he described as a “servant leader” with great integrity.
Most medical school deans, much less higher-ups, don’t see patients anymore, Simari said. But, on a limited basis, he does — again because of Girod.
“My boss was showing with his feet that he was still interested in seeing patients,” Simari said.
Girod isn't driven by being in the limelight, and his style is bringing people together and building consensus, said Roy Jensen, director of the KU Cancer Center.
“What you see is what you get with Doug. There’s no alternative agenda,” Jensen said. “He’s very much a team-based guy.”
Girod’s KU fundraising track record started by “realizing significant gifts from grateful patients” as a practicing physician, said Dale Seuferling, KU Endowment president.
“He had early on that ability as a physician to nurture relationships with patients that resulted in support for the otolaryngology department and practice,” Seuferling said, “and in fact to the point where a patient was moved to endow two professorships at the School of Medicine because of their relationship with Dr. Girod.”
Seuferling said Girod also has raised money for the medical center’s Wichita and Salina campuses, and for medical simulation equipment on the Kansas City campus, a major component of the new health education building being constructed there.
“It’s about relationships,” Seuferling said. “It takes the right personality and human intuition.”
As for getting money from the Kansas Legislature, Girod’s established relationships there should help, said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore of Kansas City, Kan., the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. She also knows Girod through her job as external liaison for KU Hospital.
“He already has an excellent rapport with at least a good portion of the Legislature. He’s been up there on various matters, gotten to know a lot of us,” Wolfe Moore said. She added, “He’s a very skilled communicator, and I think that’s always very important when you’re dealing with complex legislative issues.”
Girod said that despite fiscal challenges, a priority for him would be attracting and retaining “the best faculty in the country” to grow KU’s research mission. It’s important not only for maintaining KU’s research prestige, but also for economic development for the state of Kansas, he said.
● ● ●
It’s not uncommon for universities with affiliated hospitals and medical schools to hire CEOs from the medical side, like Girod, said Susan Twombly, KU professor of higher education and chair of the department of educational leadership and policy studies.
But KU’s main campus is much bigger and much different.
Lawrence is home to most of the university’s 28,000 students, the arts and humanities, museums, schools such as law and business, student housing and KU Athletics, to name just a few important constituencies.
“That’s a steep learning curve,” Twombly said. “I think he’s a fine leader, and I was impressed with what he was able to do at the medical center, but that was a very limited role ... I don’t think he knows much about undergraduate education.”
Girod said one of his immediate priorities would be getting to know parts of the KU community he doesn't already.
Lawrence campus constituent groups said they’re excited to work alongside the new chancellor.
“We hope to be able to work closely with Dr. Girod,” 2017-18 student body vice president Mattie Carter said, in an email on behalf of herself and student body president Mady Womack. “Some of our major priorities are issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion as well as student safety. We are looking forward to opportunities to collaborate with Dr. Girod.”
KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger said his early sense was that Girod would be a valuable part of KU's continuing efforts to grow the athletic department, and also that Girod showed a desire to educate himself on the challenges of college athletics.
“When we have worked together, Dr. Girod has demonstrated that he is very supportive of athletic endeavors,” Zenger said. “He always asked the necessary questions about the issues of our time with regard to the NCAA and the needs of the University of Kansas on all things athletics.”
Hearing that Girod supports continuing KU’s diversity and inclusion efforts for students, as well as faculty and staff — as he stated Thursday — is good, said Jennifer Hamer, KU’s vice provost of diversity and equity.
“I’m excited to work along with him,” she said. “There is a momentum...we’re on the right track.”
Twombly, who’s also been active in university governance, said she hopes Girod will retain top administrators including provost Neeli Bendapudi, who took the office last summer and has propelled diversity, transparency and rapport with faculty and staff.
“We need stability,” Twombly said.
In general, Twombly said, all KU constituents need a sense of vision from their chancellor.
“One that faculty, staff and students can buy into,” she said. “They need to feel good about where the institution is going, and we need to feel good that the chancellor has got our backs.”
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Carl Lejuez said he’s especially excited about collaborative opportunities between the college and the medical center that Girod’s expertise can bring.
Girod said Thursday that recruitment, retention and graduation would be among his top priorities. Lejuez said that fits strongly with the goals of the college.
“As the dean of a College with 57 highly diverse departments, programs, schools and centers, I fully understand that one doesn’t need to be an expert in a particular discipline to be a great advocate,” Lejuez said in an email. “Chancellor Girod has indicated that he values the liberal arts and sciences, and the College will step up to be a great partner.”
● ● ●
Franklin Murphy (chancellor from 1951-60) and W. Clarke Wescoe (1960-69) were the last KU chancellors to come from the medical center.
But many still consider them two of KU’s best chancellors — which numerous KU community members brought up in recent days.
Murphy, an internist and researcher, became School of Medicine dean at age 32 then chancellor at 35. According to KU History, Murphy launched the “Rural Health Program for Kansas” to provide physicians to underserved areas.
Wescoe, a pharmacologist, was dean of the School of Medicine and director of the KU Medical Center before becoming chancellor.
Upon Murphy being announced as chancellor of KU in 1951, many faculty worried about where their disciplines would stand, said Nancy Kellogg Harper of Lawrence, who earned her doctorate in educational leadership from KU and recently published the book, “The Making of a Leader: Franklin D. Murphy, the Kansas Years.”
Science types knew Murphy was a doctor but loved opera and art. Liberal arts professors knew his degree was in medicine, but they had heard he could read books in Latin.
Murphy was genuinely interested in everything, Harper said. That and his ability to form relationships, build consensus and secure funds made him a success.
“His vision was for KU to be of the highest quality in everything,” Harper said of Murphy. “He wanted the best chemistry department, the best sports, the best orchestra, the best museums — everything. And he was able to convince the people on campus, those who worked with him, that together they could reach that excellence.”