Univ. of Minn. faculty divided over new dental dean

2009 04 10 11 34 20 787 Schoolhouse 70

Many faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry were relieved when the former dean, Patrick Lloyd, DDS, left in July to head Ohio State University's dental school.

They hoped for change after years of what they say was oppressive leadership under Dr. Lloyd, the school's fourth dean in eight years.

But now many fear that the interim dean, Judith Buchanan, DMD, PhD -- who was recruited by Dr. Lloyd -- will continue what they call his "autocratic attitude."

School officials appointed Dr. Buchanan -- a professor and associate dean for academic affairs who is now making $286,000 a year -- over several other candidates, contrary to input from faculty members and students.

In fact, when more than 90 faculty members voted for their favored candidates, Dr. Buchanan came in sixth out of the seven names submitted, according to Muriel Bebeau, PhD, who helped develop educational programs during her 32 years at the dental school. Faculty members were "stunned" when she was chosen, according to Bebeau.

"When both the students and faculty rated her among the least desirable candidates, we were sort of amazed," Bebeau told DrBicuspid.com. "She wasn't even included among the names submitted by students."

Letters of praise

Paul Olin, DDS, a professor of prosthodontics who has taught at the school for more than 20 years, also questions the selection process.

"The previous administration was viewed by many as being somewhat oppressive," he told DrBicuspid.com. "Faculty were clearly looking for a change, and they were disappointed about the way it happened. Certainly, I was disappointed."

Thomas Larson, DDS, MSD, a professor of operative dentistry, concurred. He and other faculty want to have greater input, he said, especially regarding the school's curriculum and the evaluation of students.

“The feeling is that she won't have open faculty governance. That's why they didn't recommend her.”
— Thomas Larson, DDS, MSD, professor
     of operative dentistry, University of
     Minnesota School of Dentistry

"We were looking for a candidate who would be supportive of faculty governance because the previous dean had not been," he told DrBicuspid.com. "The feeling was that we couldn't trust Buchanan to be that much different from Dean Lloyd because she had worked for him for six years and had instituted all his policies."

Drs. Buchanan and Lloyd both declined requests for comment. But E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said Dr. Buchanan was appointed after "extensive consultation" with faculty, graduates, alumni, donors, and the Faculty Consultative Committee. In fact, she was recommended more often than any other individual, by a ratio of 5-to-1, he noted in an emailed statement.

"There were differences of opinion, as there always are among a large faculty, but there was strong support for former Dean Patrick Lloyd and Judith Buchanan," Sullivan wrote.

And in response to a series of articles by the Minnesota Daily detailing faculty complaints about Drs. Lloyd and Buchanan, several associate deans and department chairmen wrote a letter crediting Dr. Lloyd with several accomplishments. In it, they commended Dr. Lloyd for bolstering research funding, upgrading facilities and technology, and addressing poor student evaluations during his tenure.

As dean, Dr. Lloyd helped increase the school's yearly fundraising from $1 million to $3 million, according to the Minnesota Daily. He also secured a $3.5 million gift for a children's dental clinic and hired 41 new faculty members, 18 of whom were women.

The letter authors also praised Dr. Buchanan for successfully leading a 2006 accreditation visit that received 22 positive commendations, calling it a "remarkable accomplishment."

Nepotism concerns

But further fueling concern over Dr. Buchanan's appointment was her decision to name her husband, Peter Berthold, DDS, DMD, PhD, to interim chairman of the Department of Primary Dental Care shortly after she became interim dean.

Provost Sullivan halted Dr. Berthold's promotion, but Dr. Berthold was subsequently named as one of four division heads over the department.

Several members of the faculty were shocked that after only two weeks on the job, Dr. Buchanan promoted her husband.

"The first big decision she makes is not a very good one, and she's still not working with faculty," Dr. Larson said. "That's concerning; her appointments show blatant favoritism."

Dr. Buchanan bypassed other, more experienced faculty to appoint Dr. Berthold, according to Bebeau.

"Even putting aside the nepotism issue, she never consulted people in the (primary care) department," she said.

In addition, a majority of the dental school faculty members are now nontenured after Dr. Lloyd decided to make their contracts annual, Dr. Larson said.

"It's a struggle for the faculty to maintain a strong faculty governance system in the school," he said. "We hold the administration responsible for what's going on and we want them to follow university procedures, but there always seem to be exceptions, like the appointment of [Dr. Buchanan's] husband."

Faculty members now wonder if anything will change under Dr. Buchanan.

"We're not a corporation, we're a university and there's a difference," Bebeau said. "The idea in a university is that faculty are in charge of the curriculum, and the role of the administration is to facilitate the work of the faculty, not to dictate to us."

The school continues to search for a permanent dean.

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