Williams to take yearlong sabbatical

Vice President for Health Affairs John “Skip” Williams will take a yearlong sabbatical, the University announced Friday, three days after the Washington Post reported that Williams was planning to step down from his position at the end of the year.

Williams’ choice to go on sabbatical differs from the Post’s account that Williams would vacate his post because the University “no longer wants him in that position.” The Post quoted three anonymous sources in its story.

Williams will turn over his role to an “acting leader” during sabbatical, but the University has yet to announce the vice president’s replacement.

University President Steven Knapp said the University will convene an advisory committee to review the future management of the GW Medical Center.

“One of the main questions that will be considered by the Medical Center community and the University administration in Phase II of the review is whether to… combine the functions of the Dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and of the Senior Vice Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs into a single position,” Knapp said in an e-mail. “Both Dr. Scott and Dr. Williams are stepping out of their respective positions to ensure that this question can be addressed in a fully independent and objective way.”

Medical school Dean James Scott announced he would be stepping down from his position just before the Thanksgiving break.

Williams will retain his title of senior vice provost and vice president for health affairs while on leave, but Knapp would not give specifics on Williams’ future at GW.

“This is a question that Dr. Williams will be considering and exploring, and discussing with the University administration, during his sabbatical,” Knapp said.

The sabbatical comes on the heels of the first phase of a multi-part review of the Medical Center, which will look at the organizational structure and strategy for the Medical Center. The review committee suggested GW create a “double-hatted” position that combines the roles of the vice president for health affairs and the medical school dean. This new administrator would be tasked with “managing the Medical Center-partner relationships and running the school.” The committee also suggested shifting the reporting relationships of the deans of the public health school and the nursing school to the provost.

“There is a need to clarify the vision, strategy and financial plan, including philanthropy, shared among the University, [GW University Hospital] and [the GW Medical Faculty Associates],” according to documents explaining the review.

Knapp lauded Williams’ contributions to the University, saying Williams raised the value of the Medical Center during his tenure.

“I fully respect and support Dr. Williams’ decision, just as I honor and thank him for the leadership that has brought the Medical Center to this point,” Knapp said.

Williams, once the second-most powerful administrator at the University and a close colleague of former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, has seen his influence reduced during Knapp’s tenure.

Knapp asked Williams to resign from the board of directors of the corporation that manages the GW Hospital in 2009 due to a potential conflict of interest.

Nearing the end of the Trachtenberg era, Williams was promoted to University provost and was tasked with managing the day-to-day operations when Trachtenberg was away from the University. The ascension caused an uproar within the faculty because of speculations that Williams would be given a fast track to the presidency when Trachtenberg retired. Trachtenberg told the Washington Post in 2003 that Williams could land the top job, depending “on what happens over the next five years.” But when the 19-year president retired, Knapp was tapped for the top position.

Williams was later stripped of his provost title when the University restructured its academic affairs office after Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman announced his retirement.

Williams, through a media spokesperson, declined to comment.

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