August 2010

What’s in a name?

When did the Academic Health Center become the Academic Health Center?

For the first twenty-some years, the Academic Health Center was actually referred to as the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Center. At some point the moniker changed and we became the Academic Health Center.

Sometimes it is the simple questions that can be the most difficult to answer. A name change is usually a fairly significant event, but in certain cases it can be elusive to pin point an exact date especially if a string of attributive adjectives gives way to a proper noun.

The phrase “academic health center” is a common term found in the discussion of health sciences education since the 1940s. Yet, documenting the use of the name as it relates to Minnesota helps narrow the specific point we stopped referring ourselves as the Health Sciences Center and became the Academic Health Center.

The Board of Regents organized the Health Sciences in July of 1970 without using the term Academic Health Center or Health Sciences Center.

In January of 1992, the use of the proper noun is first documented in the Board of Regents minutes, yet it is only a cursory mention in the motion to acquire the Interstate Medical Center, P.A. in Red Wing and is not an official designation. This part of the motion reads

“WHEREAS, the Board of Regents, in recognition of the changing health care delivery environment, wishes to support and encourage the administration, the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic (UMHC) and its Board of Governors to seek new relationships — including but not limited to, joint ventures, affiliations, collaborative relationships and acquisitions — to assure the Hospital and Clinic’s ability to fulfill its mission of supporting the clinical, educational and research needs of the schools, colleges and programs of the Academic Health Center and enhancing its statewide service mission;”

Jump ahead to May 17, 1994 when the Board of Regents appointed William Brody as Provost. This documents the still institutional use of Health Sciences Center.

“President Hasselmo called the meeting to order, stating that the purpose of the meeting was to appoint the Provost of the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Center.”

On September 9, 1994, President Hasselmo presented to the Board of Regents the “Recommendations on Organizational Structure for Central Administration” and specifically discussed the creation and appointment of the provost position overseeing the Academic Health Center. Hasselmo noted the Regents’ approved the creation of the Provost, Academic Health Center in December 1993, but the actual terminology used in the minutes is Health Sciences Center. He also inaccurately stated that the recruitment of the Provost, Academic Health Center, occurred in May 1994 when in reality it was of the Health Sciences Center as documented above.

It turns out it is Hasselmo’s presentation and his anachronistic references that are the true first documented uses of the proper noun Academic Health Center and its replacement of Health Sciences Center at the University of Minnesota. They are further institutionalized by inclusion into the Regents’ minutes that same day as an approval of the “Restructuring Central Administration” motion.

Nostalgia & institutional memory

Nostalgia is a formidable foe to institutional history. The “good-old-days” is a powerful posture to overcome using records and archival materials. Counter narratives exist to all tales of “glory days,” but can sound like sour-grapes without supporting documents.

It is always interesting then to find such a document that gives one pause in understanding how the organization functioned and what was the institutional culture of the time.

We know that the present day Academic Health Center formed in 1970 after the reorganization of the Health Sciences by the Board of Regents based on an external review committee’s recommendations. It also was in part the result of several internal reviews and projections on the future needs of training, space, and planning. This internal review began in 1964 under the leadership of President Wilson.

But what were the internal organizational flaws that would contribute to such a review and necessitate an administrative change?

Written in 1977, the following list gives somewhat of a contemporary account of the institutional culture of the health sciences from the previous decade. Written by John Westerman, then director of the University Hospitals, the list was part of an evaluation of the office of the Vice President for Health Sciences. Westerman notes that the list is based on “a number of difficulties” presented to the Board of Regents and President Wilson by the College of Medical Sciences and the School of Dentistry in 1964.

1. Space problems — Little was constructed since the completion of Mayo Tower in 1954.

2. Planning — No health sciences plan existed. One piece of real estate was the object of the six units involved.

3. Planning Funds — No capital finance fund or even plans was in place.

4. Operating Funds — The units were underfunded for the manpower obligations and were becoming the have nots of academic health units — with all the implications of recruitment, retention, attraction of research funds, etc.

5. The clinical facilities were functionally obsolete in a highly competitive marketplace.

6. The units showed little evidence of cooperative efforts or even awareness of each others goals and programs.

7. The units displayed an uncommon talent for lobbying with central officers, regents and the legislatures on an individual or even programmatic basis.

8. There was little knowledge of the combined characteristics of the center and increasing demand to deal with the health sciences as a totality.

9. Public demand of the early ’60’s called for increased health manpower from each of the units.

10. There was no effective mechanism for administrative coordination of the units and providing an effective interface with the many university interrelationships.

Reading the evaluation you will notice that it does not contain the actual performance review. This document is merely a copy and was not annotated. However, it is interesting to see by what criteria the VP for Health Sciences was evaluated.


Stepping down

Recent conversations in the Academic Health Center tend to focus on the pending retirement of Senior Vice President Frank Cerra, MD. Dr. Cerra plans to step down after nearly fifteen years as the administrative head of the health sciences in December.

Of course, Dr. Cerra is not the first vice president for health sciences to step down. In total there have been five fully appointed vice presidents/provosts; Dr. Lyle French (1970-1981), Dr. Neal Vanselow (1982-1989), Dr. Robert Anderson (1992-1993), Dr. William Brody (1994-1996), and Dr. Cerra (1996-2010), and one long-term acting vice president, Cherie Perlmutter (1989-1992).

img0153.jpgOf all the vice presidents, Drs. French and Cerra have the most in common. Both served as departmental chiefs at the University of Minnesota before their appointment. Both served in their position for more than ten years. Both oversaw major physical expansions of the health sciences complex. And finally, both indicated an interest to return to their departments to pick up the mantle of research & teaching.

Vice presidents Vanselow and Brody left the University to serve as Chancellor of Tulane Medical Center and President of Johns Hopkins, respectively. Dr. Anderson retired from academic life.

Pictured: 1983 Oil portrait of Dr. Lyle A. French.

Read the 1981 press release announcing Dr. French’s plan to step down and the accompanying summary of his time in office.