AHC reacts to position change

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Deborah Powell is out. Senior Vice President of Health Sciences Dr. Frank Cerra is in âÄì at least for now. The only question now is why. University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks announced Wednesday that the positions of senior vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school would be combined, effective July 1, pending approval by the Board of Regents in May. University spokesman Dan Wolter said the decision comes as the first step in the bigger picture of cost-saving moves for the Academic Health Center. Powell and the Medical School have recently come under fire for missteps relating to a committee Powell created last year to address major flaws in the Medical SchoolâÄôs conflict of interest policies. Cerra, the current senior vice president for health sciences, will serve in the interim position as the University works toward identifying a new candidate for the position in 2011 . PowellâÄôs future in the AHC is less clear. A memo from Bruininks to the Regents, acquired by the Minnesota Daily, states Cerra and Powell are âÄúin discussions concerning a future administrative role for Dean Powell in the area of medical education.âÄù A statement from Bruininks issued Friday evening reiterates that the decision was based on the potential for cost savings, and was unrelated to the conflicts of interest committee. Wolter said the salary information has not been determined for the new position. The Minnesota Daily previously reported Cerra and Powell as commanding base salaries of $439,570 and $242,149, respectively . The bigger picture goal of the restructuring between the two offices is to save $5-$10 million annually, Wolter said, but he acknowledged this move alone will not create that level of savings. At this point, itâÄôs unclear how those savings will manifest. Dr. Jon Hallberg, assistant professor of family medicine in the Medical School, said he believes Cerra will implement a number of associate deans in order to balance the priorities of the Medical School with those of the AHC overall. âÄúI liken it to being a football coach,âÄù he said. âÄúYou have a line coordinator, a defensive coordinatorâĦ I think Frank will need and will put into place some confident, strong [associate deans] to take care of the day-to-day operations.âÄù Still, Bruininks has been unwavering in his stance that his decision is unrelated to recent Medical School controversies. âÄúIâÄôve been disappointed by some of the media coverage of this administrative restructuring, and need to set the record straight. As University officials told reporters yesterday, this decision had nothing to do with Dean PowellâÄôs service on the PepsicoAmericas Board of Directors, or, indeed, any conflict of interests concerns,âÄù Bruininks said in the Friday statement. âÄúDean Powell has never acted contrary to the UniversityâÄôs conflict o f interest policies and principles.âÄù But a simple Google News search of PowellâÄôs name and title tells an entirely different story. Recent articles tell not of award and accolades bestowed upon the school, but of accusations of severe conflicts of interest and policy failures. Late last year for instance, the Star Tribune reported that Dr. Leo Furcht , whom Powell named to chair the conflicts of interest committee, was disciplined for severe conflicts of interest violations. In a report obtained by the Daily, the disciplinary committee states: âÄúDr. Furcht, at a minimum should not be allowed to perform the conflict of interest responsibilities of a department head.âÄù Gary Schwitzer, an associate professor of journalism who sits on PowellâÄôs conflict of interest committee, posted his reaction to BruininksâÄô announcement on his blog, Health News Blog. Schwitzer details being approached by a reporter who asked whether he thought the decision was made in response to the recently reported controversies relating to the committee. âÄúHow would I know?âÄù Schwitzer writes. âÄúThe thought crossed my mind when I heard the news, but U hierarchy hasn’t shared any such info in my in-box recently.âÄù Other Med School faculty, including some who sit on the conflicts of interest committee, as well as the American Medical Student Association, declined to comment or go on record for this story, saying the topic is too politicized. — Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter