Geisel Faculty Still Waiting On the Details
Hanover — The presentations lacked detail, the questions were polite and the reassurances seemed heartfelt, if vague, as about 150 faculty and staff of Dartmouth College’s deficit-plagued Geisel School of Medicine gathered Monday to hear about restructuring plans.
But a vein of uncertainty festered beneath the meeting’s surface civility. That was pointed out by questioners and acknowledged by leaders of Geisel and of Dartmouth-Hitchcock who were at the meeting to answer questions.
“There is an incredibly large amount of change that’s going on at one time,” Geisel’s interim Dean Duane Compton said. “We are asking a lot of you during this transition.”
“I appreciate that this is … really, really painful,” said John Birkmeyer, the chief academic officer at D-H, a hospital and clinic organization that is affiliated with Dartmouth but has a separate financial and governance structure.
For most of the past two years, growing deficits have been the focus of attention at Geisel, which has about 400 medical and graduate students. In recent months, leaders have outlined plans to right the financial ship by reorganizing medical education and moving some research and clinical activities from Geisel to D-H. But anxiety has risen as details about who would be affected, and how, have only slowly percolated into public view.
A few more details were released at Monday’s town hall meeting. There are currently 435 faculty and staff at Geisel who also have clinical positions at D-H, according to Birkmeyer. A majority of those employees will end up on the payroll at D-H, and some of the others will remain at Dartmouth, he said.
Compton said in the meeting that some older faculty are expected to take early retirement and that some non-tenured research faculty had been notified they would lose their positions. No further notices are expected to be sent out except in cases where new funding shortfalls arise, he said.
While Compton declined to provide a current headcount of faculty — “I’m not going to quote you a number,” he told a questioner — he promised that layoffs did not signal “an endless process of contraction.”
Birkmeyer said that while some affected by the transition felt that things were moving too fast, and others complained about how slow things had gone, officials from the two institutions had strived for “transparency and clarity about overarching strategy and plans.”
Not everyone saw it that way.
“The process hasn’t really hasn’t felt all that transparent,” said Craig Donnelly, a professor in the psychiatry department, which will move from Geisel to D-H in the restructuring. “We’re placed in a little bit of an odd predicament in that the folks that are negotiating for us aren’t able to give us the details.”
“There is a lot of controversy in the department about what’s happening,” said Alan Green, chairman of the psychiatry unit. “The frustration has been that it’s been difficult to say to people, ‘This is what will happen, x, y, z.’ ”
Bryan Luikart, the vice chairman of the faculty council at Geisel, asked whether employees, prior to receiving their termination notices from Geisel, could learn whether they would be offered jobs at D-H.
Kathie Savage, a department administrator in biochemistry, said that it was important to inform people of their future status as soon as possible. “People are going to be sitting there in limbo,” she said. “This is a problem for faculty and for staff.”
Birkmeyer said that it was D-H’s “aspiration to be able to simultaneously” put the termination and employment offer documents in the hands of affected employees.
John Malanowski, the chief human resources officer at D-H, said that a series of group and individual employee meetings would begin on April 21, and that benefit comparisons would be provided. In the meantime, efforts are underway to estimate the financial impact of crediting employees whose jobs shifted to D-H for their years of service at Dartmouth, he said.
In a slide presentation, Birkmeyer estimated D-H’s support for the activities it was taking on from Geisel at $23 million, and said that represented a $6 million increase over current commitments. That figure did not include spending on undergraduate or graduate medical education or for the psychiatry department, according to Birkmeyer.
Compton said a formal announcement of the creation of a new department of medical education would be forthcoming within a few days and that Rand Swenson, a physician who is currently chairman of the anatomy department, would be named chairman of the new unit.
The top officials of the two institutions bookended the meeting with assurances. “We’re trying to create a financially sustainable model for the school going forward,” Compton said as he opened the discussion.
Birkmeyer offered a more modest projection later on: “We don’t expect the wheels to fall off.”
Rick Jurgens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3229.