Wednesday, January 09, 2013

At University of Miami, Faculty Without Confidence in their Hired Managers Afraid to Identify Themselves

The University of Miami has provided some vivid examples of the contrast between the power and privileges of the leaders of large health care organizations and the subservient role of faculty and staff. 


Back in 2006, we noted that while the University of Miami was paying its janitorial support staff less than seven dollars an hour, and supplying them with no health insurance, its President, Donna Shalala, was living in a 9000 square foot official mansion, with staff hired to make her bed.  While Ms Shalala did not seem very perturbed about the living conditions of the lowliest University staffers, as a member of the board of directors of UnitedHealth, she approved the munificent compensation given to its then CEO, Dr William McGuire (look here), who was a billionaire until he was forced to give up  some of the backdated stock options she had approved (look here).  More recently, we discussed how Ms Shalala's "visionary" leadership included presiding over the hiring of Dr Charles Nemeroff, who had previously been forced to resign as chairman of psychiatry at Emory University for various unethical activities (look here).  Last year, while awaiting the construction of a new presidential mansion, Ms Shalala presided over layoffs of hundreds of faculty and staff, which may have been necessitated by bad spending decisions made by her or those who reported to her (look here). 

The Faculty Protest

All these shenanigans apparently finally succeeded in upsetting the faculty, as described in a new article in the Miami Herald.  The article's headline was about the resignation of the University of Miami Miller Medical School's second highest ranking executive in response to faculty anger:

Amid roiling faculty anger over drastic budget cuts, the University of Miami announced that the No. 2 executive at the Miller School of Medicine, Jack Lord, is 'stepping down.' 

Dr Lord was apparently taking the fall for the previous mass layoffs, some affecting faculty in 2012:

[Medical School Dean Pascal]  Goldschmidt defended his administration’s performance: 'Last year we had many challenging issues to fix, as do many medical schools in the U.S. Thanks to Jack Lord’s leadership and hard work by everyone at the Miller School, we have met those challenges and turned things around financially.'  The announcement comes after a tumultuous year in which the medical school suffered a severe financial crisis and its leaders responded with a major overhaul that included the layoffs last spring of over 900 full-time and part-time employees — moves that angered many professors.

In a letter to faculty sent on Wednesday, Goldschmidt insisted the problems have been fixed. Goldschmidt credited Lord for helping improve the medical school’s finances, which showed a surplus of about $9 million for the first six months of this fiscal year — compared to a $24 million loss for the first six months of the previous fiscal year.

Lord, a physician who had been an executive at Humana, became chief operating officer last March, as the restructuring plans started.

However, the faculty's anger was not just directed at Dr Lord, who as noted above seemed to have been hired to take responsibility for the layoffs:

The change, announced by Dean Pascal Goldschmidt, comes as a petition circulates among tenured medical school faculty expressing no confidence in both Goldschmidt and Lord.
In particular,

Meanwhile, several sources sent The Herald a copy of a petition being circulated among school faculty members who 'wish to express, in the strongest possible terms, the concern we feel for the future for our school of medicine.' The petition blamed 'the failed leadership of Pascal Goldschmidt and Jack Lord. ... We want to make clear that the faculty has lost confidence in the ability of these men to lead the school.'


 Many faculty members, who had spent decades at the medical school without seeing mass layoffs, were angry that the cuts were made without consulting them. A report by a faculty senate committee said medical school professors described the layoffs as 'unprofessional,' 'graceless' and 'heartless.' 

Yet there is no hint that Dr Goldschmidt, or President Shalala to whom he reports are yet affected by this protest.  

Tenured Faculty Scared into Anonymity

In fact, while the faculty are upset, they are also afraid.

The report contended that the internal turmoil had prompted some faculty members to consider leaving and that 'fear is widespread.' It also cited instances of employees suffering retribution for criticizing the administration.
There is so much fear that the faculty constructed an elaborate mechanism to register protest while remaining individually anonymous.

A half-dozen people closely connected to the medical school who requested anonymity told The Herald that they’ve heard that between 400 and 600 of the school’s 1,200 faculty have added their names to individual copies of the petition.

The petitions are addressed to the chair of the faculty senate, Richard L. Williamson, a law professor. Williamson said last week he would not comment on how many had signed the petition because it was 'an internal matter' and may never become public. He said the number of those who know how many have signed is 'extremely small and none of them will talk.'

Three sources told the Herald that faculty are sending individually signed copies of the petition to the senate chair with the understanding that Williamson would not reveal their names to UM administrators


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 So, up to half of the University of Miami's medical faculty may be so upset with the current administration, apparently in part due to faculty and staff layoffs after questionable decisions by administrators some of whom may have lived large at university expense, that they essentially voted no confidence.  Yet the faculty are afraid to put their own names on their protest.

So this is not just a story about allegedly incompetent university executives, and about the contrast between the rewards such executives get and the results of their dubious management.  It is also a story about how the executives' power now threatens a bed-rock value of academia, the ability of faculty (and by extension, staff and students), to speak freely, even if that speech offends the university's management.  In this case, while apparently hundreds of faculty condemned the administration for autocratic, incompetent, self-serving actions, they all feared what that same administration could do to them if their identities were known.

In the last few years there has been a lot of prattle about the "flat organization," and there have probably been at least a few small high technology start ups that really were run on a collegial basis.  However, as we have shown again and again, throughout the corporate world, extending to health care corporations, and then to non-profit health care organizations, top management insiders have assumed more power and paid themselves better and better at the expense of all others (look here).  Even now in universities, which used to be examples of collegiality, and were run in somewhat democratically  by their faculties, faculty are obviously afraid to challenge the hired managers. 

Clearly, universities in which faculty cannot disagree with management are not going to be able to exercise the free enquiry that is core to their academic role.  In a health care context, why should anyone trust medical schools or academic medical centers run as tin-pot dictatorships by some hired executives?  Clearly, real health care reform would restore free speech and free enquiry to academic medicine.

Hat tip to Prof Margaret Soltan on University Diaries.

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