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Goldschmidt confronts angry UM medical school faculty

Faced with a faculty petition demanding his ouster and a new report citing decreasing morale, Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, confronted his critics with an impassioned defense of his administration.

Speaking to a packed, often heated faculty senate meeting of about 150 to 200 at the medical school Wednesday, Goldschmidt said he understood staff anger and vowed to make changes.

Shortly after the meeting, he issued a formal letter stating that, after hearing “the concerns of faculty and staff,” he had decided a “change in course and team was warranted.” He also pledged pay raises to faculty members still steaming over massive layoffs last year.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment during the meeting, according to several attendees, came when former dean Bernie Fogel, a longtime UM fixture, rose to tell Goldschmidt that the faculty had lost confidence in the school’s leadership.

Fogel, who spent virtually his entire career at UM, was dean at the medical school for 13 years until 1995. When he finished speaking, the faculty responded with loud applause.

On Thursday, when contacted by the Herald, Fogel, confirmed his statements. “It was heartbreaking for me to point out that there is a lack of trust and confidence in the leadership of this school.”

A new committee report issued at the meeting acknowledged “significant recent steps taken by the university to address” faculty complaints. But it also noted, “However, we are aware of deep and worsening skepticism among many medical school faculty and staff concerning whether leaders of the medical school share these values. The fear of retribution persists.”

Goldschmidt told the gathering that he has never punished his critics.

University of Miami President Donna Shalala spoke for about 30 minutes at the meeting. According to three attendees, Shalala said tough decisions had to be made to fix the school’s finances. She acknowledged that mistakes had been made but when asked, did not offer specifics. They also quoted her as saying that retaliation against faculty had “absolutely no place in an academic setting.” Richard Williamson, a law professor who serves as senate chair, has said that a “large number” of medical school faculty have signed a petition protesting the “failed leadership” of Goldschmidt and Jack Lord, who was chief operating officer until earlier this month when the dean announced he was “stepping down.”

Goldschmidt’s formal letter to faculty Wednesday said he had to make “painful” decisions that resulted in laying off almost a thousand full-time and part-time employees.

“Today, our financial results are much improved. Seven months into the fiscal year, we are $8 million in the black ... well on our way to surpassing our commitment to deliver $27 million to help rebuild UM’s balance sheet,” Goldschmidt wrote.

Because of the turnaround, Goldschmidt wrote, faculty and staff will be getting a 3 percent merit increase starting June 1.

“At the end of December, when we realized that our performance had indeed improved and stabilized, it was time to refocus. I listened to the concerns of faculty and staff via their chairs, the Medical Faculty Council representatives and their petition, and through direct, one-on-one conversations. This made me decide that a change in course and team was warranted.’’

Goldschmidt said he intended to “invite faculty volunteers to key advisory committees” to help “implement our shared vision during this transition time.”