Finalists for UAMS chancellor drop out
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock is reopening a search for a new chancellor after both finalists — who had ties to the state — withdrew from the job pursuit, with no public reason given.
The University of Arkansas System in late June named two finalists: Dr. A. Wesley Burks, 63, executive dean of the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Dr. Danny O. Jacobs, 62, executive vice
president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
Both candidates visited the UAMS campuses in Little Rock and Fayetteville last month, interviewing with faculty and staff members and UAMS and the UA System administration officials.
UA System President Donald Bobbitt, who was not made available for an interview Wednesday, said in a statement that a search committee would “work as long as it takes” to find the candidate who fits best for UAMS.
“As with any senior leadership search, our task comes down to finding an individual whose experience, vision and passion align with the needs of the institution and state,” he said. “While I’m disappointed in the short term that we have not yet found the right person to lead UAMS, I’m not discouraged. I have no doubt that staying the course with a deliberative, participatory process will lead us to the right person to serve as our next chancellor.”
The finalists were vying for the position that was vacated by Dr. Dan Rahn, 67, who retired at the end of July after nearly eight years at the helm. Stephanie Gardner, UAMS’ senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, is the interim chancellor.
Now the 17-member search committee, along with contracted firm Isaacson Miller, will consider new candidates and take another look at the initial applicants, said Nate Hinkel, the UA System’s spokesman.
The University of Arkansas Foundation Inc. paid the firm a fixed fee of $180,000 to help with the search. The foundation will not have to pay more for an elongated search, Hinkel said. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that secures private financial support for UA System campuses.
On Wednesday, officials said little about why both candidates backed out.
“In order for these searches to be successful, it needs to be a good fit for both the candidate and the institution,” Hinkel said. “Obviously, in this case, it turned out not to be a seamless fit.”
He would not comment further on the withdrawals.
Dr. Jeannette Shorey, search committee chairman and associate provost for the faculty at UAMS, said in a statement that she is “very pleased with the work of the committee and search consultants.
“We already have a solid pool of applicants identified and the recruitment processes are constantly in motion to identify others who may have more recently become interested in the position,” she said in the statement.
Shorey would not comment further than the statement.
Jacobs, a Camden native, said during his time in Arkansas that “a big part of the attraction” for the job was the chance to “contribute in some way” to his home state.
“There is connectivity here that is warming,” he said at the time.
Burks, who was born in Marshall in Searcy County, graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and earned his medical degree at UAMS.
“It’s a really good place with a lot of good people,” Burks said of the UAMS community during his interviews in Arkansas. “And it has the additional quality of being home — we have kids here, parents here.”
Burks’ son, Chris, is a family attorney in Little Rock. His daughter, Sarah, serves as Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s education policy adviser. His parents live in Conway.
Both finalists talked during their interviews about UAMS’ scope — its footprint in nearly every Arkansas county and its role as Arkansas’ primary medical research and education engine.
When reached by email Wednesday, Jacobs said he had no comment about his withdrawal from the post.
Burks said in an email Wednesday that UAMS “is a great institution.”
“This was a wonderful opportunity but after much thought and careful consideration I have decided that now is not the best time to leave my current position,” he wrote in the email.
He did not respond to additional questions late Wednesday.
The continued search comes at a time when UAMS is staunchly sticking to its three-pronged mission — educating health care professionals, providing patient-centered health care and advancing research — when the sector’s future direction is uncertain.
UAMS, with an annual $1.4 billion budget, is the largest public employer in the state, with more than 10,000 workers throughout multiple campuses and other sites. It educates 3,000 students a year and oversees seven specialty institutes, including those in cancer, aging and psychiatric research.
It has increased its coffers by $65 million and reduced uncompensated care from 14 percent to 3 percent because of Arkansas Works, the state’s expanded Medicaid program, officials have said. But changes are afoot as Congress works on repealing and replacing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The academic medical center has continually been “on the edge financially,” Rahn has said, while at the same time sustaining and expanding its mission. Rahn cut UAMS’ budget by $120 million over his tenure and increased operating revenue by more than 40 percent.
Under Rahn’s leadership, UAMS reorganized its clinical programs to focus on patient-centered care, raised an average of more than $100 million annually, upgraded its information-technology infrastructure, increased the number of graduates — it had 950 cross the stage last week — and increased collaboration for patient care.
Rahn earned $630,000 annually, plus a $13,000 stipend for housing and a car. On top of that, the UAMS foundation pitched in $270,000 in annual deferred compensation, which is set aside for his retirement.
The state has allocated a maximum of $375,000 for this fiscal year for the position, but Arkansas Code Annotated 6-63-309 states that exceptionally qualified people can earn up to 25 percent more than the line-item appropriated amount. Institutions can supplement salaries through private funds as well.
“In order for these searches to be successful, it needs to be a good fit for both the candidate and the institution. Obviously, in this case, it turned out not to be a seamless fit.” Nate Hinkel, University of Arkansas System spokesman