Frank Cerra’s legacy

The medical official leaves behind a successful but controversial tenure.

Daily Editorial Board

In an e-mail to faculty, President Bob Bruininks wrote that departing Senior Vice President of the Academic Health Center and Dean of the Medical School, Frank Cerra, will âÄúleave a lasting legacy of reform and achievement in the health sciences during a period of immense turbulence and challenge.âÄù

Better put, Cerra will leave behind a legacy of reform, achievement and turbulence. ItâÄôs the turbulence âÄî which has surfaced with the Academic Health Center and Medical SchoolâÄôs seemingly-persistent troubles with conflicts of interest âÄî that the University should attempt to mitigate in finding CerraâÄôs permanent replacement, a national search that officials have said might take years.

Cerra took over as senior vice president of health sciences in 1996, a year after University transplant surgeon Dr. John NajarianâÄôs illegal manufacturing and sale of an immunosuppressant drug brought the University severe sanctions from the National Institutes of Health. Nearly 15 years later, weâÄôve still been hearing about embarrassing ethical lapses under Cerra âÄî one of which arguably led to the death of Dan Markingson, the psychiatric patient who killed himself while participating in a clinical study conducted by the University.

Under Cerra, the Academic Health Center has pointed decidedly toward industry and development (see: the multi-million dollar Biomedical Discovery District), which can be good for the state and the University. Yet in looking for his replacement, the University should look for someone who knows how to temper CerraâÄôs instincts for entrepreneurship with the knowledge that a growth spurt at the Academic Health Center, if itâÄôs too fast, could also disable it âÄî as illustrated by its recent history.