College of Medicine restructuring concept approved

It took about two hours of debate followed by a secret ballot May 17 for University Council to approve a restructuring concept for the U of S College of Medicine. 

The new academic governance model, which received 38 votes in favour and 26 opposed with two abstentions, will create three divisions within the college—Divisions of Clinical Research, Medical Education, and Biomedical and Population Sciences. The restructuring is an effort to address accreditation issues around the assignment of and accountability for teaching responsibilities, lagging research performance and complex lines of authority in delivery of clinical services.

In introducing the motion to approve the concept, Bob Tyler, chair of Council's Planning and Priorities Committee, said, "the status quo, certainly we believe as a committee, is not sustainable and change has to occur. I don't think I have to spell out the implications of the loss of accreditation."

Also speaking to the motion was Provost and Vice-President Brett Fairbairn who stressed the issues within the college do not relate to individual performance; "this story is about an academic model that doesn't respect the needs of students or accreditation." The new model, he said, will allow the college to prioritize teaching, research and service.

First introduced in April, the restructuring was the subject of numerous consultation sessions, and has been revised based on that feedback, said Martin Phillipson, acting vice-provost of faculty relations. Phillipson admitted the initial draft lacked integration between the three new divisions; the revised concept defines collaborative research and teaching groups. "Nobody gets a free ride," said Phillipson. "Everybody has to change and collaborate to ensure the college is successful."

Before debate on the motion, Fairbairn also told Council about the creation of a dean's steering committee on college renewal that will be co-chaired by associate deans in medicine and will play a "consultative and guiding role in shaping the concept." He also moved an amendment to the original motion, changing the effective date of the new model from July 1 this year to Jan. 1, 2013. The later date will allow for more detail planning before the concept takes effect, he said. The motion passed.

The debate involved both Council members and visitors representing the college. Marcel D'Eon, who is a member of both groups, urged Council to defeat the motion, describing the concept as "a treatment plan of sorts … but I truly fear the patient may succumb to the cure." He said the turmoil, upheaval, fear "and unfortunately, animosity and resentment created by this paper may cripple our patient—the College of Medicine" in its efforts to find teachers and renew its curriculum.

Speaking in favour of the motion, David Parkinson, vice-dean in the College of Arts and Science, said he is confident the College of Medicine "can work in a really exciting and creative kind of balance" between the new divisions. "I know that this model can work."

Several speakers expressed concern about the process of developing the concept. Don Hamilton, a professor of biomedical veterinary sciences, said faculty in the college felt "ambushed by the process. Do we decide matters in a collegial way or do we decide them in a top-down way?" Michael MacGregor from the Department of Psychology reminded Council that medicine faculty have spoken "very loudly and very clearly" in opposition to the restructuring.

The concerns from college faculty were summed up by Dr. Tom Wilson, chair of the college's faculty council, who said the concept is being rushed through, is opposed by 87 per cent of students and faculty in the college, "has no obvious connection to the solution of our problems and finally, will have negative consequences … not the least of which is loss of faculty."

President Peter MacKinnon spoke in support of the motion, noting the commitment of the provincial government to solving accreditation issues and to the Health Sciences project. "The question for me is, will we live up to (that commitment)?" Defeat of the motion may invite external intervention, he said. "I don't want that, and you should not want that either."

After Council voted to close debate on the motion, Fairbairn made final comments. He said the restructuring will help recruit a new dean by ensuring that person does not face "a stalled debate," and reminded Council implementation will be in the hands of college leadership and faculty. He added the proposed structure works successfully in all other Canadian medical schools.

"Will we establish a structure within which the College of Medicine organizes work in a different way or will we be referring back to a college whose systems have proven that they can't produce results, they won't produce results, they haven't produced results?" he asked. "We need to change that system and it's only University Council that can take this step."

When the question was called, Hamilton made a motion that the vote be taken by secret ballot. The motion passed. Secret ballots are a rare occurrence at Council according to University Secretary Lea Pennock.

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