'Without a medical school that is moving ahead, none of us will make it.'

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  • December 18, 2012 - 12:05 PM

To get the lowdown on the new, outside report on the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center, I spoke with Dr. Russell Luepker.

He's a Mayo Professor of Public Health in the School of Public Health and has also held leadership positions on university senate and faculty committees. His insight into the importance of the report and its place in a larger conversation about the state of the medical school was so strong that I will include much of it here.

While President Eric Kaler characterized the report as "a calibration," Luepker contends that "this is a big deal."

Luepker summed up problem:

I think this university in the health sciences has the ability and resources to be a first-rate place. And while there are certainly first-rate units and individuals, the whole has a way to go. I think without a medical school that is moving ahead, none of us will make it. To move forward, we need leadership and a vision. I think the president gets that.

Luepker came to the U's medical school in 1976, "when we were in the top 20." But since then, "we have gradually fallen in the rankings. And everyone in the country knows it, unfortunately. Something has to be done."

An earlier, internal report "didn't answer many of the questions that bedeviled us," Luepker said. Kaler recognized that and announced that he would bring in an outside group.

The panel noted that the medical school's relationship with Fairview Health Services is the source of "a great deal of concern." Luepker shares that concern.

The agreement they forged "is a bad deal," he said, not just because it doesn't give the university a fair share of revenue. "People talk about money, and of course money is important... But it's also about the concepts of teaching and research. Their thinking has never been, despite many attempts, 'We have a teaching hospital here that does important research.' "

Luepker praised the panel for noting the friction with Fairview, as well as the importance of involving faculty in strategic planning and the need for greater transparency when it comes to finances and costs.

"The president is looking hard, I think, at our administrative overhead," he said. "We have duplicated functions, and we can pare back."

Kaler urged the faculty to accept the current leadership structure in the Academic Health Center and move on. But Luepker notes that much of the discussion about structure -- whether the dean of the medical school should also be vice president of health sciences -- is really a Minnesotan way to approach a bigger conversation about leadership.

"Do we have the right people? The right leadership and visionary leadership?"

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