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Faculty Governance at the University of Minnesota is an Oxymoron

Despite a near unanimous vote by faculty for a dedicated dean at the University of Minnesota Medical School, the administration says no. Here is the blanket email of Robert Bruininks.

This is also available as a downloadable pdf.


date Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 4:30 PM subject Update on AHC Leadership Transition mailed-by ecommunication.umn.edu

July 7, 2010

Dear Colleagues:

On February 24, 2010, I wrote to announce that our colleague and long-time leader in the University community, Dr. Frank Cerra, had informed me that he planned to retire from his position as senior vice president and dean effective December 31, 2010. In that letter, I also described the broad and thorough consultative approach I planned to undertake as a necessary predicate to any search in this complex and important transition.

As I had hoped, that consultative process has been rich, rewarding, and insightful, and I want to extend my sincere thanks to the hundreds of individuals and numerous groups who have shared their thoughts. It elicited a substantial amount of useful information and ideas that will help guide both near- and long-term strategies for the leadership and organization of the academic health sciences in the context of the University's mission. With this letter, I want to share some of the broad themes we consistently heard through these consultations and provide you with my priorities for moving forward with this transition.

Those consistent themes were as follows:

* The strength and vitality of the University of Minnesota Medical School is the most pressing issue.

* A strong dean focused on the future of the Medical School is critical, and a strong Medical School is essential to the continued vitality and growth of the other health sciences colleges.

* There is high value in coordinating and facilitating interdisciplinary and inter-professional work among the health sciences colleges, and these opportunities should be fostered and broadened to include a number of other disciplines such as biology, engineering, bioengineering, psychology, and others.

* A review of the Academic Health Center (AHC) infrastructure should be undertaken to strengthen alignment with core University academic programs and to identify potential redundancies and opportunities to reduce administrative overhead.

With that context in mind, and considering Dr. Cerra's December 31, 2010, transition date, we will take the following steps to advance this process:

First, it is clear that leadership will be needed in the near term to ensure continuity and progress once Dr. Cerra steps down, and that leadership during this next period needs to be primarily focused on the Medical School and important relationships such as those with University of Minnesota Physicians and Fairview Health Services (Fairview). The position must therefore be appropriately tailored to focus predominantly on the strategic issues and challenges that will help ensure the ongoing progress and continued success of the Medical School. This includes the vital work underway to strengthen the University's relationship with Fairview and other health systems and providers and the coordination of integrated clinical services across the health sciences fields in anticipation of emerging changes in the delivery of health care.

I intend to announce this appointment in the fall and have asked a small group of advisors to assist me in identifying the best possible candidate to fill this role. The start date for this appointment is January 1, 2011, but I expect the nominee to begin working with Dr. Cerra during the fall to allow for some overlap of time in order to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities. I have discussed this strategy with Dr. Cerra, and he agrees that this is an important part of the process.

The position will continue as a direct report to the president, with selected academic responsibilities (e.g., promotion and tenure, curricular review, accreditation, etc.) reporting to the senior vice president and provost. This latter change reduces the workload of this position and is consistent with current practice in which the provost is the final review for academic curriculum, academic personnel, and program accreditation matters. I plan to consider nominations for this position during the month of August. Please feel free to share your nominations directly with me at UPres@umn.edu. More information concerning the particulars of this appointment, including title and position description, will be forthcoming.

While I understand the many thoughtful concerns expressed regarding the range of priorities and responsibilities that fall under the current combined role, I also want to make clear that this appointment does not change the decision I made nearly two years ago to combine the roles of senior vice president of the Academic Health Sciences and dean of the Medical School into a single position, effective July 1, 2009. That decision followed nearly a year of extensive review of the organization of the major universities in the United States that have strong medical schools and health sciences disciplines and consultation with many leading thinkers in this area of academic enterprise, both within and outside the University of Minnesota community. It was thoroughly discussed with the University's Board of Regents, and Dr. Cerra's appointment as senior vice president and dean was presented to the Regents and was unanimously approved at their June 2009 meeting. Since that change, I have heard broad consensus that integrating a vice presidential role with the dean of the Medical School is critically important in achieving a stronger and leaner leadership structure for the Medical School, a view that is strongly endorsed by Dr. Cerra as well. This position will retain executive leadership with other senior academic officers related to the University's strategic positioning in setting academic and budget priorities.

[This is an untrue statement, President Bruininks, and you know it.]

Given the unique time we are in, I believe that streamlining the existing role and focusing it on leadership of the Medical School and our statewide responsibility related to research and the provision of health care are imperative. Add to this the pressing reality of the upcoming accreditation process facing the Medical School and that imperative becomes even more obvious.

Second, I have decided to move forward with what I believe is an important next step in this process. Effective with the new appointment at the start of the 2011 calendar year, the deans of the schools of nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, public health, and veterinary medicine will work directly with the senior vice president and provost for all aspects of traditional academic responsibility that the provost holds for the other collegiate units of the Twin Cities campus, specifically promotion and tenure, curriculum, academic planning, and coordination across fields. This pattern is the most common organizational model among major universities with medical and other health sciences schools. I would anticipate, however, that Dr. Cerra's replacement would retain oversight responsibilities for some remaining academic and support functions of the current AHC, pending further review of the AHC infrastructure.

Importantly, the provost has always retained ultimate responsibility for all matters of academic oversight; however, this will eliminate the current review and approval process for these collegiate units at the AHC level. I believe that this action will streamline current responsibilities and provide for more time for Dr. Cerra's replacement to bring attention to the long-term needs of the Medical School, while still retaining focus on health policy and systems relationships and continuing the standard of providing strong interdisciplinary leadership in the University community. It will also provide an opportunity to capture and improve academic efficiencies in the handling of these areas of traditional provostial responsibility. I want to be clear that this action is not intended to communicate that less value is being placed on the successful and highly desirable interdisciplinary collaboration across the health sciences colleges established under Dr. Cerra's leadership. That must continue and be strengthened. This is especially true as it relates to the interdisciplinary approach to the education of future health professionals and the coordinated and integrated delivery of healthcare services and research in the emerging healthcare marketplace.

Third, and to that end, I believe that it is essential for us to build on the significant value that the AHC has brought in the enhancement and support for interdisciplinary research, education, and clinical service provision. Again, that value was echoed throughout the consultative process. Importantly though, many of you related that not only should this commitment be retained, but it should in fact be strengthened through extension to other academic disciplines campus-wide that are essential to the work being done in the health sciences. I agree, and have determined that a very promising strategy to forward this work is through the formation of an all-University level multi-disciplinary leadership council focused on the needs and opportunities present in this vital aspect of our mission. Later this fall, I will announce more detailed plans for this council, but I envision convening the deans of a number of colleges (including, for example, the current health sciences units plus disciplines like engineering, information technology, food and agricultural sciences, education, and psychology), to develop and deliver a University-wide life-and health-sciences strategy. I intend that Dr. Cerra's replacement will hold a leadership role on this council.

Fourth, I also plan to move forward with a review of the AHC infrastructure and will appoint a working committee to help with this process. It is important to note that at the time I made the decision to combine the roles of senior vice president and dean of the Medical School into one position, I also indicated that the organizational model of the AHC would be under further review. I believe we are now at a point to continue that process. Beginning with the new calendar year, and building on work already begun under Dr. Cerra's leadership, the review of the AHC organizational model will cover at least two significant elements:

1. A review of the AHC mission, functions, and responsibilities toward supporting enterprise-wide systems and mission, focusing delivery of services to the University's health sciences units wherever appropriate, and identifying potential synergies and redundancies with colleges and central administration along with opportunities for reducing administrative overhead. The goals of this effort should be supportive of enterprise-wide systems (e.g., human resources, information technology, capital and space management, finance, and communications) to reduce costs and increase responsiveness and should provide clarification of enterprise- and unit-specific roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities.

2. A review of the existing centers and programs located within the AHC to achieve strengthened academic alignment and to determine the most appropriate location and relationship for each of these centers. This review must include the leaders of the centers and the broader University community, and decisions should be based on what is best for the University and its goals.

It is important to note that this kind of review is not focused on the AHC alone, but is part of a broader University-wide response, necessary in the new normal economic environment, to consider the redesign and improved coordination of University support services. This review is not being undertaken with a pre-determined outcome in mind. I anticipate that the current offices and centers of the AHC will continue as they are now organized through the review process and for this fiscal year, to ensure there is no interruption in current work responsibilities and to engage the individuals who are most knowledgeable about the work of the AHC. There are many approaches and strategies for the organization of the health sciences at major universities across the United States. I firmly believe that this period of leadership transition provides a unique opportunity to build on the success of the past while determining whether the current organizational structure for the health sciences or some other will best position us for success into the future.

Finally, I want to again thank Dr. Cerra for his ongoing leadership and all that he has accomplished and will continue to accomplish during his long career at the University of Minnesota. I have heard this gratitude echoed many times over these last few months, and I know that you share in this appreciation for him. Dr. Cerra is widely recognized for his leadership, and he has achieved a lasting legacy that will strengthen the long-term future of the academic health sciences.

Thank you also for your hard work and for all you do to make the University of Minnesota such a rewarding place to work and serve. I will continue to provide updates and more information on the transition as we move forward.


Robert H. Bruininks
Robert H. Bruininks

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