New dean stems from skeptical search

Kelly Wittman

Although some people involved in the search for a new Medical School dean are satisfied with their choice of Dr. Alfred Michael, others disagree on how well the search process went.
Members of the search committee that selected the two finalists for the position have differing views about how the committee came to that number. Some said the committee had to work hard to cut down an applicant pool of 40 to get to the final two, but others said most applicants dropped out of the race, leaving them with only two to consider.
Sandra Edwardson, chairwoman of the committee, said 40 candidates applied for the position, and the group did not have a problem with candidates dropping out. The committee was made up of faculty members, students, administrators and Minnesota medical group representatives.
The Board of Regents is expected to officially appoint Michael on Friday. Academic Health Center Provost Dr. Frank Cerra, who named Michael to the position earlier this week, said the search process generated an adequate number of candidates. “This was a full-fledged national search that produced a strong pool of candidates,” he said.
However, Mike Armstrong, a medical school student representative to the search committee, said that although the initial pool of candidates was broad, there were only two candidates left to consider, following numerous dropouts.
“The final pool was not as broad as we would have liked,” he said.
But Armstrong said he was satisfied with the final selection of Michael, who had been the school’s interim dean since last June.
Financial problems and the sale of the University’s teaching hospital to Fairview Health Systems has put the AHC in the media spotlight. An anti-climactic search for a new University president in the fall has focused attention upon how the institution chooses its leaders.
The fact that Michael accepted the position came as a small surprise because, when the search for a new dean began last spring, Michael said he would only stay on as dean until a permanent successor could be found.
Michael said he changed his mind and decided to take the position permanently because of the challenges the school is facing. With the substantial changes taking place in the health care industry, it was important for him to oversee the school’s path into the 21st century, Michael said.
“I love the University, and I love the Medical School; if you’re committed and you view something as a challenge, it can get you hooked,” he said.
Cerra said he chose Michael on Monday after additional visits and consultations with the two finalists. Michael was just the right person for the job, he said.
Michael’s experience as the interim dean might have helped him land the job for a permanent basis.
“His strong leadership as an interim dean caught our eye,” said Edwardson.
Michael said his first priority is to reorganize the Medical School to underline the institution’s commitment to the community it serves, but with the top post comes others’ expectations. Different members of the medical school community have their own ideas for the new dean.
Michael has taken on a complicated role, Edwardson said. He faces a changing environment in health care delivery and teaching, she said, partially because Minnesota is seeing a greater concentration of health care service in three major corporations.
Major health care company officials say they need doctors that have been trained with an interdisciplinary approach and are not afraid to work together, Edwardson said, and Michael will need to foster this kind of work in the Medical School.
Linda Daghestani, vice president of the Medical Student Council, said Michael’s most important priority should be maintaining strong leadership for the AHC. The medical school has gone through so many deans and interim deans in the past few years, it needs stable leadership, she said.
“I just hope he stays.”