Two George Washington University medical school administrators to step down

By Lena H. Sun and Daniel de Vise
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 11:38 PM

The two top administrators of the George Washington University medical school are being removed from their positions six months into a university review of the school's organizational structure, according to several medical school sources familiar with the changes.

Medical school dean James Scott announced two weeks ago that he was stepping down and returning to his full-time faculty position in January, according to a GWU statement. Medical school sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity while discussing sensitive personnel matters, said top university officials pressured Scott to resign or risk jeopardizing his severance package.

The other leadership change involves John "Skip" Williams, senior vice provost and vice president for health affairs. Williams has told his senior staff that he plans to leave by the end of the year because the university no longer wants him in that position, according to three medical school sources. He has hired an attorney and is negotiating an agreement, the sources said.

Neither Scott nor Williams returned telephone calls to their offices or e-mails sent to their university accounts.

Lorraine Voles, GWU's vice president for external relations, said that the situation with Williams, who also has tenure, remains unresolved. "We are currently discussing Dr. Williams' plans," she said in a written answer to questions.

During the transition, Provost Steve Lerman will announce any interim leadership appointments at the medical school, Voles said.

Williams was the second-highest-compensated university official after President Steven Knapp for the fiscal year ending June 2009, receiving a total compensation of $912,839, according to the university's most recent tax returns. He is responsible for the administration and oversight of GWU's Medical Center, which includes the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the School of Public Health and Health Services, and the School of Nursing.

Scott's total compensation was $567,435 for that same period, according to the documents.

The university began a one-year review in May at the request of the board of trustees. A group of outside experts was hired, and the initial phase, which concluded last month, focused on the relationship between the medical center and the medical school, officials said. No reports by the experts have been made public.

GWU's School of Medicine and Health Sciences was put on probation by its accrediting body in fall 2008 for a range of alleged deficiencies in its academic programs. It was, at the time, the only one on probation of the 129 U.S. institutions accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Loss of accreditation would have effectively killed the program, one of the nation's oldest medical schools. The school was taken off probation in February.

University officials portrayed the problems as superficial. But a 2009 Washington Post investigation found more serious issues, including high levels of student debt and failure by school leaders to relate student clinical experiences to classroom learning.

The Post probe found a potentially serious conflict of interest in the school's leadership. Williams received money and stock options for serving on the board of directors of Universal Health Services, the company that owns the GWU hospital. Some critics said his stake in that company's profitability provided a potential incentive for Williams to focus on hospital'finances rather than invest in medical education and research.

Williams resigned from the corporate board at the end of the 2009 academic year, although university officials said in a statement they found no evidence of "an actual conflict of interest." The issue was not a factor in the school's accreditation problems.

University spokeswoman Voles said Tuesday that Williams's former service on that board is not a factor in the review.

Founded in 1825, the medical school ranked 66th in the nation in research in the 2010 U.S. News & World Report rankings. The school serves about 700 students.

The university's hospital was purchased by the for-profit company in 1997; the facility was losing money and sapping the school's endowment. It is rare for a for-profit company to run a teaching hospital.

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

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