Interim Geisel Dean Duane Compton presents Geisel progress to Trustees

by Amanda Zhou | 11/10/15 9:29pm

Interim dean of the Geisel School of Medicine Duane Compton met with the Board of Trustees last weekend to address his plans to restructure Geisel, spurred by a roughly $27 million shortfall of Geisel’s $250 million dollar budget.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Bill Helman ’80 expressed support for the plan in an interview, noting that the cuts were essential. He said the school should invest in its strengths, even if that would cause some specialization.

“Many medical schools will have to make choices about areas of excellence and where they can add value and be unique in support of medical education and world class research,” Helman said. “It’s become clear that every medical school can not do everything. But everyone is feeling the same pressure and having to make choices, not of which are easy.”

But two Geisel faculty members — physiology and neurobiology professors Charles Wira and Paul Guyre — have circulated a petition protesting a perceived lack of transparency in the review and noting that the timeline appears expedited, even though the petition expresses support for cuts in general.

Wira and Guyre were unavailable for comment. Six additional members of Geisel’s faculty did not return request for comment, while two were unavailable.

Helman and Compton said that Geisel has attempted to involve different groups, citing several town hall discussions, student meetings and Provost and President involvement alongside faculty.

“We’ve been revising and updating our plans as we hear that input,” Compton said. “So it’s been valuable to us.”

Helman also said that the Board of Trustees have spent more time discussing Geisel in the last few years.

Compton said in an interview that Geisel’s financial status is not “uncommon,” noting that science funding has shrunk nationally. He said reducing the budget had been a priority since “day one,” but now administrators are more focused on finding long-term solutions rather than incremental solutions.

Helman expressed support for Compton’s approach. Compton, he said, has attempted to incorporate review from various campus constituencies.

“This is an important strategic move for Geisel and Dartmouth at large,” Helman said. “Getting it right is so important, and that includes communicating with various groups — Compton’s doing a good job with that.”

Compton and the Trustees took into account the requests made by the professors’ petition and approved a three-month delay before proceeding through any action, Geisel biochemistry and medicine professor Surachai Supattapone said.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence confirmed via email that Compton updated the Trustees on Geisel’s progress so far, but there was no official vote on any part of the plan. In the future, Compton will continue to update the Board, and there will be individual votes on aspects of the plan as necessary, Lawrence wrote.

Supattapone declined to share a copy of the petition with The Dartmouth, noting that it is intended for faculty only, but he read the petition aloud.

“The current approach is likely to dismantle an institution that has successfully served for decades as an outstanding worldwide example of academic excellence and social responsibility,” the petition reads.

Supattapone noted that the petition does not provide specific mechanisms for including faculty when implementing cuts.

“The biggest problem is probably that everyone has a slightly different idea of the best way to [balance Geisel’s budget],” Supattapone said. “The petition does not give a specific sense of how the faculty would achieve that, so I think that’s a potential problem.”

Still, Supattapone noted that the plans to restructure Geisel’s departments have been met with faculty opposition.

Faculty support how Geisel currently organizes its departments, he said.

“[Faculty] would like to see ways of reducing the budget while keeping their home departments,” Supattapone said.

Compton said that even if the cuts were difficult to implement, they remain essential. As is apt for a biochemist, he used a medical metaphor to describe the importance of a healthy budget.

“If you think about the organization as a body, you can think of the departments and programs as bones and muscles — the structural integrity,” he said. “And the budget itself is like the blood. The budget is what nourishes all those programs but the blood itself doesn’t stand on it’s own.”