Faculty respond to end of Geisel 2020 plan

by Emilia Baldwin | 10/25/15 8:42pm

Geisel faculty and experts responded to the Geisel School of Medicine’s decision to drop the Geisel 2020 Strategic Plan for Excellence — aimed at improving Geisel’s rankings — with mixed opinions about how the change would affect Geisel’s admissions.

Interim Geisel dean Duane Compton announced last month that Geisel will no longer pursue its 2020 initiative — through which Geisel sought to move into a top-20 position by 2020 in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of the nation’s top medical schools — as part of a larger overhaul of Geisel. The change came as a part of a budgetary overhaul that affects both the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Geisel, resulting from a roughly $27 million annual deficit at the medical school.

When the strategic plan was announced in 2011 by former Geisel dean Wiley “Chip” Souba, Geisel ranked 32nd in research. The school peaked at 31st in 2013, but has since been unable to match its former spots. Geisel dropped back to 38th in the 2014 rankings, followed by 34th and 37th in subsequent years.

Geisel neurology and anatomy professor Rand Swenson, who formerly served in Geisel’s admissions office and said he has been involved in discussions about resolving the school’s budgetary shortfall, said that the school chose to abandon the 2020 plan because of insufficient federal research money.

“The plan depended on federal research money expanding, but in reality we were spending a lot of money on these programs while the money was flatlining,” Swenson said.

Swenson also said that he thinks that Geisel is acting as a pioneer, since several medical schools across the country are also facing the same financial crisis.

“The sequestration of funds by the [National Institute of Health] has affected medical schools across the country,” Swenson said. “It’s getting to a point where schools have to adjust.”

While Swenson said he is not privy to the final plans, he said that he believes that the medical school will decrease in size in the coming years. He also said that he thinks the abandonment of the 2020 program will not play a significant role in Geisel’s admissions, as the institution is still committed to always working at its full potential.

Swenson said that while rankings play a small part in the admissions process, they are by no means the only determinant on whether or not a student applies to Geisel.

Geisel biochemistry and medicine professor Surachai Supattapone agreed with Swenson, noting that he thinks that the 2020 plan was financially unsustainable in its previous form because of the shortfall in federal grants.

But Supattapone did note that a top-20 ranking would give Geisel an advantage against other peer institutions — a rise in rankings, he said, might lead to a jump in application numbers.

He also said that Geisel has not had trouble finding committed applicants, so he does not view the abandonment of the plan as a significant loss for the school.

Second-year Geisel student Raphaela Gold said that she thinks that Geisel faculty has handled the current financial situation well.

In her opinion, Geisel must ensure that it stays financially viable not only in the long term, but in the short term as well. She commended Geisel on reassessing its goals as an institution.

“Geisel had all these lofty plans that were great for the long term, but it’s definitely important that we think of the situation in the short-term, too,” Gold said.

Gold also said she does not think that the current restructuring will damage the institution’s reputation, as it still remains a top-tier institution. She added that she has not noticed the school’s financial shortfall in her daily life — the faculty, she said, have shielded the students from budgetary questions as much as possible.

University of Southern California clinical education professor Mark Robison, who has served as a consultant for institutions of higher education in the past, said that he thinks Geisel has acted shrewdly by reassessing its goals for the future. Robison also said that he does not think Geisel’s specific rank affects its admissions numbers on a year-to-year basis, adding that Dartmouth’s reputation as an Ivy League university precedes somewhat-arbitrary rankings numbers.

Robison also said that it is important for institutions of higher education to maintain long-term goals, adding that not meeting these goals on schedule does not necessarily constitute failure.

“[Abandoning] something like Geisel 2020 isn’t a failure if the institution maintains its dedication to improving itself in the future,” Robison said.

He said that while it is always difficult for an institution to come out from a deficit, reform and restructuring can ease the process.

Geisel pathology professor Joseph Schwartzman, who was formerly the chair of Geisel’s admissions committee, agreed with Robison. While he did not have the numbers at hand, Schwartzman said that admissions numbers at the medical school did not correlate with any change in the rankings year-to-year.

Robison added that the College’s status as a small research university must also be taken into consideration when analyzing projects like Geisel 2020.

“Schools like [the] University of Texas and Ohio State [University] have a lot of research money in part because of their sheer size,” he said.

Compton was not made available by the office of communications to comment by phone.

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