Barbara Atkinson stepping down as executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center and executive dean of School of Medicine

Barbara Atkinson will step down as executive vice chancellor of Kansas University Medical Center and as executive dean of the School of Medicine on June 30, accelerating her previously outlined timetable for stepping aside from those roles.

“There is no question that the KU Medical Center has benefited tremendously under Dr. Barbara Atkinson’s leadership,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in a written statement.

Gray-Little named Steven Stites, Peter T. Bohan Professor and chairman of internal medicine, to serve as acting executive vice chancellor and executive dean, effective immediately.

Few other details were announced on Monday, and both Gray-Little and Atkinson declined to discuss the decision, through spokespeople.

Atkinson, 69, served as the chairwoman of pathology at the KU School of Medicine and in 2002 assumed duties as the executive dean of the medical school. Since 2004, she has served as both executive dean and as executive vice chancellor of KUMC.

Four months ago, Atkinson announced her plans to retire but said she would stay on as dean of the medical school until a new dean was identified, and as executive vice chancellor until December 2013.

“I believe that with the conclusion of our application for (National Cancer Institute) designation, this is a very good time to pass the torch to new leadership,” Atkinson said in a prepared statement. “I am confident that our application to the NCI will be favorably received, and with it will come exciting new opportunities for our KU Medical Center to provide ever better and more effective care to the citizens of our state and region.”

Gray-Little previously indicated her desire to separate Atkinson’s two roles, and a search to identify the next dean of the medical school had already begun. Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs, said on Monday that the chancellor would continue to work with that search committee “to identify new leadership for KU Medical Center.”

Caboni would not say whether the existing committee’s role would expand to identify a new executive vice chancellor in addition to a medical school dean, nor would he say whether the chancellor still wanted to separate the two roles. As the chancellor and the committee continue their work, Caboni said, the KUMC community will be kept informed.

In November, when Atkinson first announced her intention to retire she identified plans to work on a number of issues beyond cancer designation, including expanding the class of the medical school and founding a new School of Public Health. But on Monday, Caboni reiterated Atkinson’s written statement that said now that the essential work was done on the NCI designation, the timing was right to step aside.

“This is really about this being a good time to transition and pass the torch,” Caboni said.

Caboni said the decision was unrelated to Atkinson’s performance and said the chancellor was pleased with the progress the medical center had made under Atkinson’s leadership, citing the NCI application, the completion of the Robert E. Hemenway Life Sciences Innovation Center building and the increase in NIH-funded research at KUMC during her tenure.