Fi­nal­ists for UAMS chan­cel­lor drop out

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - AZIZA MUSA

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

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