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The GW Hatchet

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Medical School top brass may vacate post

GW’s second-highest paid official plans to step down from his position at the end of the year due to pressure by top University officials, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, but a University spokeswoman contends GW is still in discussions with the medical school vice president.

Vice President for Health Affairs John “Skip” Williams may vacate his post because the University “no longer wants him in that position,” the Post reported, quoting several anonymous sources. Vice President of External Relations Lorraine Voles would not comment on the nature of the discussions and declined to say if the University is trying to remove Williams from his current role.

A media spokesperson for the Medical Center declined to comment on behalf of Williams, and directed all questions to Voles.

Williams, once the second most powerful administrator at the University and a close colleague of former President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, has seen his influence reduced during President Steven Knapp’s tenure.

Knapp asked Williams to resign from the board of directors of the corporation that manages the GW Hospital in 2009 due to a potential conflict of interest. Williams’ position at the company included a six-figure salary and stock options. Given his two roles at the time, Williams could theoretically choose to ensure the hospital’s profitability at the expense of investing in upgrades and training that could benefit medical students and faculty.

Nearing the end of the Trachtenberg era, Williams was promoted to University provost and was tasked with managing the day-to-day operations when Trachtenberg was away from the University. The ascension caused an uproar within the faculty because of speculations that Williams would be given a fast-track to the presidency when Trachtenberg retired. Trachtenberg told the Washington Post in 2003 that Williams could land the top job depending “on what happens over the next five years.” But when the 19-year president retired, Knapp was tapped for the top job.

Williams was stripped of his provost title when the University restructured its academic affairs office after Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman announced his retirement.

Knapp’s office did not return a request for comment.

If Williams officially resigns from his position, he will be the second high-ranking School of Medicine and Health Sciences official to vacate a top position at the University six months into a review of the Medical Center’s organizational structure. Medical school Dean James Scott announced he would be stepping down from his position just before the Thanksgiving break. Scott was pressured to resign by “top university officials” or else “risk jeopardizing his severance package,” according to the Post. Scott will resume his position as a professor in the medical school and will not lose his severance, Voles said, because he is staying on at the University.

Voles said Scott decided to step down because the second phase of the review will examine the staffing of the Medical Center and Scott did not believe he could effectively evaluate the management when he was part of it.

“It is difficult to have an objective look at the structure, if you’re part of it,” Voles said of Scott’s decision.

The medical school, along with the School of Public Health and Health Services and the newly created School of Nursing, is housed in the Medical Center. The deans of SPHHS and the nursing school have not announced plans to leave their positions, but both only stepped into their jobs this past summer.

A secretary in Scott’s office directed all questions to Voles.

The review of the center comes on the heels of the medical doctorate program being put on probation by its accreditation board for failing to maintain various standards of protocol, including curriculum management, providing adequate study space for students and internal administrative processes.

At the time, the University’s medical program was the only school on probation with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education – the accreditation board that reviews GW’s medical school – and only the fifth to be placed on probation nationwide since 1994. The probation was lifted last February after a review found that improvements had been made to the program.

The review, which was requested by the Medical Center committee of the Board of Trustees, is an effort “to update the whole strategy” of the center, Voles said, because of the changing face of health care and the Medical Center’s 10th anniversary.

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