December 2009

Tools of the trade

img0134.jpgA lot can be done in the archives with a pencil, acid-free folders and a few boxes. However, there are times when different tools are required. In this case a hammer and screwdriver.

My recent work includes sorting through records from the Vice President of Health Sciences office acquired over the past 30-some years. The material consists of well over 100 boxes and spans six administrations of the Academic Health Center.

img0135.jpgAs part of this review, an intriguing locked metal box surfaced. Without a key to be found, I had to use a different tool set, quite literally a tool set, to open it.

The box was locked for obvious reasons. A label taped to the front read: “VPHS Search 1981-82.” Presumably, its contents would include applicant information and search committee materials.

The 1981-1982 search for a new Vice President of Health Sciences was the first open search for the position. Created in 1970 with the reorganization of the health sciences by the Board of Regents, the position’s first incumbent was Dr. Lyle French, whom the Regents appointed as acting Vice President in July 1970 and then as full VP in March 1971. Dr. French served for eleven years before stepping down. The successor to the position was Dr. Neal Vanselow in September 1982.

img0136.jpgOn the Monday before Thanksgiving, I managed to pop the lock and open it in front of a small audience at the project’s advisory committee meeting. Luckily, it was not my ‘Al Capone’s vault‘ moment. Locked for nearly 27 years, the metal container and its contents were now part of the historical record.

The box contained applicant files as well as notes generated by the search committee. Much of this information is governed by University of Minnesota records management and human resource policies and must follow certain retention schedules to satisfy privacy requirements.

img0137.jpgFortunately, the box also contained material that related directly to the development of the position and documents the search process. This information provides insight into the needs of the University and the health sciences at that particular point in time. These items will be retained as part of the institutional record in the archives.

Cancer center prospectus

In 1971, President Nixon famously began the “war on cancer” by signing the National Cancer Act. The Act, however, was not the beginning of the NIH’s attempt to promote cancer research and treatment but instead was a reinforcement of the goals of the National Cancer Institute founded in 1937. The 1971 Act expanded the budgetary and programmatic functions controlled from within the National Cancer Program and gave the director a direct line to the Office of the President outside of the NIH.

By the time of the 1971 National Cancer Act the University of Minnesota had spent 50 years of establishing cancer treatment and research through charitable giving.

img0133.jpgCancer treatment and care as a focus formally began in 1923 when the Citizens Aid Society led by Mrs. Carolyn McKnight Christian donated $250,000 to the University to open a 50-bed hospital for the treatment of cancer in honor of her husband, Mr. George Chase Christian. The gift also included money for the purchase of equipment and cobalt for radiation therapy. The Christian Wing was appended onto Elliot Memorial Hospital and is still structurally a part of the Mayo Memorial complex.

In the 1950s the Minnesota Masons followed suit with a campaign to establish an 80-bed facility with research space. Shortly after is successful completion in 1958 the Masons went on to raise the funds to add two additional floors to the facility and 50 more beds. The Masonic gifts to the University also included the establishment of an endowed Masonic Professorship in Cancer.

In 1958 the Veterans of Foreign Wars donated $300,000 for cancer research space at the University. The research facilities were built adjacent to the Masonic Memorial Cancer Hospital.

By the mid 1980s, the Medical School and those involved in cancer research in other disciplines began a push to establish a formal cancer center on campus. The University of Minnesota’s Cancer Center opened in 1991.

Read the 1988 prospectus for the Cancer Center below and note the emphasis on interdisciplinary programming.

“It is vital to marshal knowledge of fundamental biology to resolve issues of cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”