Committee’s report urges caution in decision on veteran-focused medical school at SU
Illustration by Dani Pendergast | Art Director
A report given to Chancellor Kent Syverud in late October urges university leadership to exercise caution in making a decision on whether to pursue the idea of a veteran-focused medical school at Syracuse University.
The report, obtained by The Daily Orange, was given to Syverud on Oct. 23 by the 21-person Faculty Advisory Committee appointed in September to look further into the proposition to establish a veteran-focused college of medicine at the university. Throughout the 107-page report, the committee considers the idea “transformative,” but expresses caution, saying it “includes considerable risk.”
The idea of the veteran-focused medical school was announced in August. The school would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and would train doctors and health care professionals to work at Veterans Administration hospitals across the country. The VA is projecting a shortage of 22,000 doctors over the next 10 to 15 years, according to the report. The students would go to SU tuition-free, similar to the approach used by ROTC, with the funding coming from external sources such as the VA and private donors.
Reactions to the idea vary widely across the SU campus, according to the report. Included in the report are nearly 50 pages of faculty comments with some praising the idea, while others are extremely critical. On Sept. 18, all 1,649 SU faculty members were sent a survey to give their feedback relating to the proposition. The survey garnered about 330 submissions over a two-week period, according to the report. That feedback is included anonymously in the report, along with the committee’s own thoughts.
Over the course of seven weeks, the committee met six times with the first meeting being convened in early September. The committee was chaired by University Professor Sean O’Keefe, who previously served as the Secretary of the Navy, NASA administrator and chancellor of Louisiana State University.
During the six meetings, which were all attended by Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Liz Liddy, the committee looked at different aspects relating to the idea, including collaborative research opportunities, faculty impact and student considerations, but throughout the report, financing was the biggest topic. Faculty and committee members expressed concern that a new medical school would take away resources and funding from other university schools and institutes.
In the report, the committee lays out 10 findings, the second of which says that a “necessary condition” of the medical school would be that the economic model be self-sustaining and “does not diminish existing programs, schools and colleges.”
The university has said that a combination of state money, federal money and philanthropic support must be present to make pursuing the school viable. In the report, there is skepticism over whether or not those elements of support can be secured to make the school self-sustaining.
Included in the second finding is a view that the idea should be considered within some of SU’s current initiatives, such as Fast Forward, Syverud’s main initiative. In the report, committee members and faculty members showed concern that the strategic planning currently being done by the university would be set aside to make room for the pursuit of the medical school, if that is the decision that is made.
The committee also discussed whether “further entanglement with the federal establishment” could “compromise” the culture and mission of the university.
“The overriding concern is expressed by the view that the further we travel down this path, the more likely we are to become less like a university and more like a defense contractor,” the committee wrote in the report.
The committee added that relationships with federal institutions would be necessary, but does highlight a potential risk.
Other members of the committee and faculty believe the university’s image could be negatively altered from a ranking as a “top tier institution of higher education in the fields of social science and humanities to a confusion amalgamation of disciplines with no central grounding,” according to the report.
Institutional limitations were also a point of discussion, according to the report. Some members are concerned about the physical limitations of campus. The university is currently working on its Campus Master Plan, which will provide SU a framework for how it will go about architectural decisions in the future.
When the idea for the new school originally came out on Aug. 6, there were reports that SUNY Upstate Medical University was not on board with the plan, and according to Syracuse.com, Upstate Interim President Dr. Gregory Eastwood wrote to Syverud and called the idea “harmful.” SU met with Eastwood in mid-July to address Upstate’s concerns, according to the report filed by the SU faculty committee. During the meeting, SU senior administrators “made clear” that the idea would not detract from the mission of Upstate, the report said.
The committee also said in the report there is a substantial need to communicate with the SU community what exactly the idea for the veteran-focused medical school is. According to the executive summaries from two of the committee’s meetings, members were to explore the possibility of Syverud providing an update on the committee’s work and the idea as a whole in his communication with the community. While it is unclear if the committee went to Syverud with the idea of providing an update to the community, the chancellor has not mentioned the idea on his “Bleeding Orange” blog and the last SU News release about the medical school was the announcement of the committee.
The committee did not make any set recommendations in its report.
“At minimum, the findings reflected in this report suggests that much more work will be required if you (Syverud) elect to move forward,” the report said.
Published on November 2, 2015 at 10:00 am
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