Dean's Weekly Message
December 5, 2016
Ordinarily my weekly email is focused on the positive accomplishments of the faculty, staff and students. This week, however, I begin by addressing events of the past week that have received widespread media coverage and generated a negative impression of the school in the minds of many in the public. As has been reported, a pediatric anesthesiologist employed by Denver Health and holding a faculty appointment in the School of Medicine posted on social media what many people, including me, consider to be racist comments about First Lady Michelle Obama. These postings were presented to local media and then picked up by news organizations around the country. On Thursday, about 48 hours after learning of the postings, I initiated proceedings to terminate Michelle Herren’s faculty appointment. She subsequently resigned from Denver Health and therefore the University of Colorado. These events occurred in the context of multiple reports from our students, residents and faculty over the past several months that there has been a notable increase in the number of encounters with patients overtly expressing bias toward providers.
As you might imagine, we have received many communications about these events. Some urged immediate firing. Others argued that each individual has the right to freedom of speech in their role as a private citizen. This was carefully considered in the deliberations that led to my decision to initiate proceedings to terminate her faculty appointment. I should note that these procedures of the University provide the opportunity for the faculty member to make the case for continuation of her appointment. The rationale for our actions is not “political correctness” or “liberal bias,” as a few have suggested. Rather, it reflects the facts that the University of Colorado School of Medicine has a series of core values that we believe are the foundation of the practice of medicine. Among those are a commitment to provide the best possible care to all in need regardless of race, gender, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or other characteristics. In order to do this, we embrace diversity as a core strategy, attempt to teach cultural competency to our learners and explicitly seek to create an atmosphere of civility that allows respectful discourse among people with widely varying perspectives. Medical education continues to have a substantial dependence on the apprenticeship model and we therefore strive to have faculty with the appropriate knowledge and skills who share and display these core values. The online postings established that she does not and thus impaired her ability to serve without compromise as an educator and caregiver. She is entitled to express her opinions freely, but when those statements are at odds at what we stand for and seek to pass on to our students, we are not obligated to have her on our faculty. And when students justifiably decline training, we are compelled to ensure that we have faculty who reflect the highest standards of our institution.
I close this section of this week’s newsletter with a couple of reflections. The first is the familiar observation that postings on social media can very quickly attract widespread – and often unwanted – attention. As a result, we should each carefully consider what we share on such platforms. The second is that although she did not specifically identify herself as a member of our faculty when she made her posting, the comment was immediately linked to her professional role and the subsequent media coverage emphasized her faculty appointment. It is a cautionary lesson of the special role that faculty and medical professionals hold in our society; we may differentiate our professional and private lives and activities, but the public does not.
The University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus Staff Council is presenting a seminar, “Unconscious Bias at Work” by Brenda J. Allen, PhD, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, at noon, Monday, Dec. 12, in the Hensel Phelps Auditorium, Research 1 North. RSVPs are requested. If you have questions, contact Maria Rainsdon at email@example.com or the University Staff Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congratulations to Becky de la Houssaye, who last Friday received the Steven Fadul Award, which is given each year to an outstanding professional research assistant. Becky joined the lab of Jed Friedman, PhD, professor of pediatrics, a decade ago, after working in clinical research at National Jewish, running the laboratory of Karl Pfenninger, MD, for over 20 years, and having taught laboratory chemistry for 10 years prior to joining the University. Becky has provided over 40 years of service to the University and has touched the lives of two generations of scientists. Beyond being a PRA, she is a friend, colleague, and mentor whose nominations cited her dedication, technical expertise and passion for basic science research.
Maureen Garrity, PhD, associate dean for student life and associate professor of medicine and physiology, recently announced that she will be retiring in January 2017. In honor of her longtime commitment to the CU School of Medicine and our medical students, the University is establishing an endowed medical scholarship fund in Maureen’s honor. Throughout her career, Maureen has been an exemplar of professionalism, with a record of dedication to the well-being of students. For her efforts, she has been recognized with several awards, including the Chancellor’s Teaching Recognition Award in 2013, the Faculty Professionalism Award in 2016, and nationally, with the 2014 AAMC Group on Student Affairs Exemplary Service Award. The Medical Scholarship Committee and donors to medical scholarships have already raised some funds in order to establish the Maureen Garrity, PhD Medical Scholarship Endowment and will match all gifts and pledges received in the current academic year up to $90,000. Please visit http://giving.cu.edu/GarrityScholarship if you would like to make a gift online. If you have questions, contact Travis Leiker, associate director of alumni relations and advancement at 303-724-2517 or email@example.com.
The Human Touch has issued a call for submissions from students, faculty, staff and friends of the Anschutz Medical Campus. The Human Touch is an annual journal of poetry, prose, photography and graphic art. The journal was founded by Henry N. Claman, MD, Distinguished Professor from the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and is edited by Anschutz campus students. Henry died this year and the 2017 edition will be dedicated to him. Paper copies of the journal are available for free at the AMC Bookstore in Education II South and the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities, or you can find it online. The deadline for submissions for the 2017 edition is Monday, Dec. 19.
The Colorado Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program is recruiting students, clinical and non-clinical faculty, and staff to volunteer for the National Western Stock Show Jan. 7- 22, 2017. Each year, AHEC coordinates a booth providing health screenings to visitors at the Stock Show and it is an important community outreach event for the Anschutz Medical Campus. Thousands of people each year get screenings provided by students and faculty representing all the schools on our campus. Screenings include health assessment interviews, blood pressure, blood glucose, body-mass index calculation, vision screening, balance screening, oral health screening and others. There are multiple shifts daily and each shift lasts four hours. Volunteers must register online. For more information contact Cindy Armstrong at 303-724-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus alumni and friends are invited to the 2017 CU Family Night
at the National Western Stock Show on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. The Pro Rodeo and Mutton Bustin’ Contest begins
at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 per person and are available for purchase online.
Have a good week,
John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine
The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service. See the UCH-Insider →
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