Provost’s dual roles questioned

University Provost John Williams resigned from the Board of Directors of the corporation managing the GW Hospital this month after GW leadership cited his position at the company – which includes a six-figure salary and stock options – as a possible conflict of interest.

Williams, who is vice president of health affairs and the second most senior administrator at the University, has received more than $750,000 since 2001 from Universal Health Services along with valuable stock in the Fortune 500 company, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Williams was paid $709,005 from GW in 2007.

His dual positions may have posed a conflict of interest because Williams is tasked with both improving the academics of the medical school and keeping an eye on UHS’s profits. Given his two roles, Williams could theoretically choose to ensure the hospital’s profitably and forgo investing in upgrades and training that could benefit medical students and faculty.

GW’s Board of Trustees, University President Steven Knapp and other University leaders asked Williams to step down from his UHS position this month to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Knapp said.

“I was thinking about the University well in advance,” Knapp said, referring to his time before he assumed the presidency in 2007. “I knew this was one of the issues that I wanted to revisit.”

Williams has been a member of the UHS Board of Directors since 1999. UHS has been operating the GW Hospital since they bought the majority of shares from the University in 1997 and was instrumental in helping GW build and equip a new hospital in 2001.

Knapp said the decision for Williams to leave the UHS board was unrelated to the medical school’s academic probation announced in October by its accrediting body – the Liaison Committee on Medical Education – or a recent Washington Post article pointing out Williams’ dual positions.

University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said “it really boils down to new leadership at the institution,” including Knapp and a new Board of Trustees chairman, Russell Ramsey, who assumed their positions within the past two years.

“We’ve been looking at policies across the board,” Schario said. “Since last summer in particular, there has been a great deal of interest with this possible conflict of interest.”

GW’s Board of Trustees reviewed and approved Williams’ service and compensation annually until this summer, when Knapp called for a reassessment of conflict of interest standards. The Board of Trustees also reviewed other administrators who served on other boards but Knapp said Williams was the only one asked to step down.

Originally, the University believed Williams’ presence on the UHS board would “strengthen the working relationship between the GW Hospital and the University,” Knapp said. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was University president when Williams’ UHS board position was first approved, said GW had to “comply with contemporary circumstances” in asking Williams to step down.

“When John Willams went on UHS’ Board of Directors, it was good for the University and good for UHS but that was several years ago,” Trachtenberg said. “Times change.”

He added, “There are virtues and losses as a result. We will no longer have a window into deliberations into decisions of the UHS board, as we did before.”

Schario said they asked Williams to step down, despite the fact that “no information emerged to indicate an actual conflict of interest.”

GW Law School professor Theresa Gabaldon, an expert in ethics and corporations, called it troubling that Williams was receiving stock options from the UHS.

“It’s already a significant compensation and certainly the stock options make it more troubling,” Gabaldon said. “One of the problems is he [was] beholden to the management.”

Gabaldon said she could imagine that the University thought that is was to their advantage to have an administrator familiar with GW’s interests sitting on the board but that the recent negative attention probably made them rethink the scenario.

“Certainly a great deal turns on appearances,” she said. “When sunlight is cast on these types of relationships, they are often terminated.”

Medical School Dean James Scott said the decision to let the for-profit UHS run the GW Hospital was positive, saying that the partnership has brought “millions of dollars in education and equipment.”

“Is it a little bit of a unusual relationship? Yes. I think at the end of the day the question is, do they support the medical school,” he said, noting a 50 percent increase in doctors in the last 10 years.

Williams declined to comment on any of the allegations.

When asked about Williams’ refusal to comment to The Post or to The Hatchet, Deborah Hudson, the assistant vice president of media marketing communication at the medical center, said “he has complete control over whether he wants to talk to the press or not. He declined this time.”

Sarah Scire contributed to this report.

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