Kaler says an external AHC review could be on the way

The announcement came in response to contention over a year-long internal review.

Kathryn Elliott

President Eric Kaler is strongly considering an external review of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Academic Health Center after receiving the results of a lengthy internal evaluation of its mission, structure and possible inefficiencies.

An executive committee, appointed by former University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks in early 2011, produced a 32-page report that was delivered to Kaler in early November, along with 83 pages of feedback from the University community.

KalerâÄôs first response came at ThursdayâÄôs University senate meeting. In the past 15 years of the AHCâÄôs 40-year history, he said, 10 similar reviews have taken place, and few changes have been made.

âÄúI know there is a certain âÄòreview fatigueâÄô that has set in, a fatigue that can only drive cynicism,âÄù Kaler said according to a speech transcript provided to the Minnesota Daily. âÄúMuch is at stake. We need to get this right. I need to get this right.âÄù

If Kaler was to make any major, credible changes to the AHC, an external review would be wise, said Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy, who co-chaired the AHC review committee.

Much of the feedback for the review questioned the objectivity of the committee members, many of whom were top-level administrators within the AHC.

âÄúI donâÄôt think endorsing the report as it existed was going to be very satisfactory by the community,âÄù Mulcahy said. âÄúWe at the University need to address even the appearance of bias.âÄù

The report contained eight major recommendations, the first stating the AHC should continue to exist.

The next several points dealt with administrative reporting lines, recommending that the AHC should be led by a Vice President for Health Sciences whose sole job is to focus on interdisciplinary education, research and clinical programs. Bruininks combined the position with that of Medical School dean in 2009, putting other health science deans in the position of reporting to their peer.

The reportâÄôs last couple points suggested the AHC should continue to support interprofessional centers and provide administrative services that are âÄúessential and unique.âÄù

Along with the contents of the report, 83 pages of feedback largely criticized the review as âÄúunremarkableâÄù and uncritical of what some called the âÄúsuperstructureâÄù the AHC has become. Its annual budget has grown to $1.4 billion, and 15 interdisciplinary centers or programs have been added to the six colleges that comprised it initially.

A faculty council in the School of Public Health commented that the review contained no business plan or justification for how certain AHC services contribute to its mission and the University.

âÄúFar from examining the question of whether the AHCâÄôs administration has gotten too big and inefficient, the review suggests that the AHC should expand its engagement,âÄù the comment said.

The committeeâÄôs recommendation that the AHC deans continue reporting to multiple people was âÄústrange,âÄù wrote an anonymous commenter.

âÄúThis neither fish nor fowl arrangement will lead to duplication of authority and confusion,âÄù the comment said.

The AHCâÄôs Faculty Consultative Committee drafted its own response to the review, agreeing with several of its conclusions but saying it was âÄúvague, ambiguous, and lacked transparency.âÄù

The response criticized the review for supporting the status quo without defining what is included in âÄúessential servicesâÄù and without providing financial or other data to back up their points. The group also said that a lack of âÄúrank and file representationâÄù on the review committee undermined its credibility.

The overall feedback from the AHCFCC indicated the year-long review was a âÄúlost opportunity,âÄù said Colin Campbell, head of the committee, according to November minutes of a Medical School faculty council.

The comment period from the University at large was the most important part of the review process, said Michael Oakes, an associate professor in the School of Public Health who was the only non-administrator on the executive committee.

âÄúIt was really excellent that so many distinguished people that love the University had so much to say about things that were said, and frankly, not said.âÄù

Oakes said heâÄôs always considered the review to be a self-study, akin to students assigning themselves grades or faculty members awarding themselves tenure. He has maintained through the review that an outside process will be necessary âÄî a view he said he believes others on the committee also hold.