Long-awaited academic health restructure goes into effect

University administrators say a revamped health sciences structure will increase collaborative work, but communication across units will be key.

A University of Minnesota Health sign is seen on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Ellen Schmidt

A University of Minnesota Health sign is seen on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Austen Macalus

Following the restructure of its Academic Health Center, University of Minnesota administrators say they’re looking forward to a more collaborative approach to health sciences.

The overhaul, which went into effect earlier this month, split up administrative structure into three domains — clinical affairs, education and research — while dispersing operations and shuffling research centers among multiple top-level administrative units.

“The model we had before served us well at different times, but what we were really looking for was a model that allowed us to broaden and, in a new way, think about how we do health sciences work across disciplines,” said Jon Steadland, chief of staff to University President Eric Kaler, who helped implement the restructure. 

President Kaler announced the restructure this summer after faculty raised concerns about the dual role of the Medical School dean and AHC vice president, which oversaw operations related to clinical, interdisciplinary and administrative issues. 

“The faculty overwhelmingly had qualms about the leadership structure,” said Wendy St. Peter, chair of the AHC Faculty Consultative Committee. “They felt that the job overall was too big for one person to deal effectively with changes that need to take place.” 

Under the old AHC, the majority of oversight fell to one administrative unit: the vice president for health sciences, who also served as dean of the medical school. The revamp took away a singular leader for health sciences. 

Under the new structure, Medical School Dean Jakub Tolar will serve as the vice president for clinical affairs, which oversees clinical research and training. The position is one of the three senior leader units. The other two are the executive vice president and provost’s office, which focuses on professional education, and office of the vice president for research, which is in charge of research and increasing collaborative efforts. 

Each unit will have their own associate vice president, a new administrative role intended to increase collaboration across health sciences. 

Steadland said that the position will be vital to one of the main goals of the restructure: interdisciplinary research, interprofessional education and improved clinical training. 

“The associate vice presidential level is really where this work is going to happen on a day to day basis,” he said. “That’s going to be the key intersection to that horizontal work between those various units.” 

Christine Mueller, an associate dean in the School of Nursing, currently serves as the interim associate vice president for academic health sciences, under the provost’s office. 

Mueller said she is looking forward to helping implement the new health sciences operation, but others may have questions about the changes. 

“I think faculty are waiting to hear more about what this will look like,” she said. “Anytime you make a significant change such as this, it just takes a while to get things sorted out.” 

Although excited about the restructure, St. Peter said there are qualms about how the three units work with one another. 

“What faculty are really concerned about is [if] can they go about their day-to-day lives in research and teaching and service and do that seamlessly,” she said. “But, of course, the devil’s in the details.”

The AHC FCC has put forth draft benchmarks to determine the success of the health sciences operations in the coming years. 

But it will take some time to gauge whether the restructure is working. 

“Once you get into the work itself, we’re going to have to have some trial and error,” Steadland said. “This is a pretty big change. It’s not minor what we’re undertaking here, and anytime you undertake pretty big administrative and structural change there’s a relatively high level of uncertainty about how this is going to play out.”