Medical school speeds search for dean after two years

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences got orders from GW’s top leader this month to accelerate the search to fill its deanship, after nearly two years of temporary leadership.

University President Steven Knapp and Provost Steven Lerman directed the school’s faculty executive committee to launch an expedited dean search to stabilize GW’s most selective and richest school – the first sign of movement in its stalled hunt for a permanent leader.

The accelerated process should produce a new dean within “months, rather than a year,” Knapp said, charging the executive committee with appointing a group of faculty to lead the search, instead of waiting for dean nominations.

“Having gone through two years of interim transition, it was time now to move forward with establishing and stabilizing the leadership of the medical school, and this was the time to take that step,” Knapp said. “That’s now started. It should not take as long as a full-dress dean search.”

The search committee will be picked by the medical school’s executive faculty committee, Lerman said. He added that leaders are still deciding if a consulting firm would be brought in to assist the search.

The expedited search committee will include eight faculty members, one student and a member of the Board of Trustees or an alumnus from the school. University spokeswoman Candace Smith declined to provide specifics about the search beyond the school’s bylaws.

Marc Blackman, a professor of medicine, said he was looking for transparency from senior leadership and the search committee when selecting a permanent dean.

And while hastening the search will bring much-needed permanency to the post, Blackman said he would have preferred a more comprehensive search.

“[Candidates] need to have a very strong, well-articulated vision as to how to maintain and grow the multi-disciplinary excellence at the University,” Blackman said.

The medical school’s interim leader, Jeffrey Akman, has been in place since former dean James Scott resigned in November 2010. In addition to overseeing plans for a new curriculum and career services, Akman managed the school’s partnerships with the GW Hospital, the Medical Faculty Associates and the schools that formerly comprised the GW Medical Center: the School of Public Health and Health Services and the School of Nursing. Until 2011, the schools shared budgets, bylaws and other operations, but the reorganization gave each school and each dean authority to grow research, faculty and academic programs.

The medical center’s breakup also forced each medical science school to create new procedures, like budget allocations. The schools now report directly to Lerman, rather than the vice president for medical affairs.

Akman, who is also interim vice provost for health affairs, is well-liked, professors have said. But Knapp cited the challenge of filling positions in the school’s administration under interim leadership.

“The reason you want to make that transition at some point is that it’s kind of hard for interim deans to hire people in senior positions, because you don’t want to move yourself and your family to take a job for someone who may not be there the next year,” Knapp said. “We thought it was time to move this to the next level – to move to a permanent deanship.”

Through medical school spokeswoman Anne Banner, Akman declined to comment.

Of the school’s 23 academic departments, interim leaders currently head five. James Griffith has served as interim chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences for two years, and he has echoed the sentiment that a permanent chair would help create new and more permanent leadership.

Griffith said he hopes the search committee will seek out candidates with strong negotiation and persuasion skills who will encourage the GW Hospital and Medical Faculty Associates to pursue a common mission – a challenge, considering their independent status.

A potential dean would take over GW’s most selective school, albeit one with an academic probation marked on its record four years ago.

Only the president and the provost can initiate an expedited search. The Board of Trustees approved search committee rules in May – the last hurdle to finding a permanent dean for the medical school.

The medical school is the only one of the top 10 priciest medical schools this year not to crack into the top 50 for research.

The University is already searching for a Columbian College of Arts and Sciences dean and will likely start process for its next GW Law School leader next spring.

“We’re always going to be doing searches,” Knapp said. “The higher you rise in the stature of the University, the more you’re going to be recruiting outside, and the more your people are going to be recruited from outside.”

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