Search stalls for medical school dean

by Nicolas Diaz and Cory Weinberg

At a glance:

October 2008
The medical school is put on academic probation by an accrediting body.

February 2010
The medical school's academic probation is lifted.

May 2010
A Board of Trustees advisory committee begins a review of the GW Medical Center, which recommends a massive structural shift.

November 2010
James Scott, dean of the medical school, abruptly steps down. Jeffrey Akman takes over as interim dean in December.

July 2011
The GW Medical Center completes its split, with the medical school separating its budget and administrative functions from the public health and nursing schools.

May 2012
The Board of Trustees approves a faculty search for the medical school dean that must include eight high-ranking professors and one student selected by an executive committee.

Correction appended

The University has yet to embark on a search for a dean to head its richest and most selective school, after 21 months without a permanent leader.

The Board of Trustees gave the go-ahead to start a dean search for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences in May – 17 months into Interim Dean Jeffrey Akman's tenure, but Provost Steven Lerman said there are no concrete plans to begin hunting for a new leader.

The school has been stuck on pause since last year, when the process of reorganizing the budget and framework of Medical Center – which includes other health and medicine-based schools – put operations like the dean search in flux.

“I think perhaps we thought we could do this more quickly,” Lerman said.

Lerman said the search could start this year – as soon as the school straightens out its partnerships with clinicians and doctors at the GW Medical Faculty Associates and GW Hospital. As vice provost for health affairs, Akman also controls the school with the largest operating budget and an endowment that made up 19 percent of the University’s entire pool.

“It’s still on everybody’s agenda. We don’t know yet,” Lerman said.

A search for a permanent medical school dean was supposed to begin last fall, according to a June 2011 release.

The University has started talks with several search firms to manage the dean search – a typical move for large hiring decisions – but has not yet hired a headhunter, Lerman said.

Faculty bylaws, which were approved by the Board in May, dictate that the dean search committee must include eight high-ranking professors and one student. Faculty members interviewed could not pinpoint when a search would start.

“We want to take the time to make sure everything is stable... Stability is the most important thing,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said.

The school also previously shared a budgets, bylaws and other operations with the School of Public Health and Health Services and the School of Nursing, but the reorganization gave each school and each dean authority to grow research, faculty and academic programs.

A new leader would take over GW’s most selective school. It is also one with a national ranking yet to squeeze into the top 50 and with an academic probation marked on its record four years ago. The medical school is the only one of the top-10 priciest medical schools not to crack into the top 50 for research.

Still, the school’s ranking has been on the rise, at No. 55 this year in the U.S. News & World Report research ranking after landing at the No. 66 spot two years ago.

Some professors, including David Perry, applauded Akman’s work as an interim dean, but said the school would see more progress with a permanent leader.

“There has been a sense that no big decisions are going to be made until we have a permanent dean,” said Perry, a professor of pharmacology and physiology who has worked at GW for 29 years. “Having ‘interim’ in your title has to limit your ability to get long-term things done.”

He cited the school’s need to reform its curriculum, hire full-time faculty and cope with dwindling federal research dollars as the main administrative tasks facing an incoming dean.

Another professor, Rakesh Kumar, said the 20-month wait to start the search “is quite long,” but he, too, approved of Akman's job performance. Still, he said the school needs a dean with a clear vision to boost its ranking.

“If that’s not one of the goals, we can have a CEO running the school. Ranking means something, because you set up the goal to achieve it,” Kumar said.

Through medical school spokeswoman Anne Banner, Akman declined to comment. About a dozen other medical school professors declined to comment.

Akman took over the school’s top post after former dean, James Scott, abruptly resigned in November 2010 during the University’s review of the Medical Center, citing the need to step down to ensure the independence of the review.

GW's last five dean searches have lasted an average of nine months.

When the GW Law School underwent a search for its new dean two years ago, interim dean Gregory Maggs stayed in the top position for six months. But the School of Public Health and Health Services held onto its interim leader, Josef Reum, for about 20 months before hiring Lynn Goldman in May 2010.

This article was updated Aug. 30, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the School of Medicine and Health Sciences was ranked at No. 44 two years ago. In fact, it was ranked at No. 66 two years ago.

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