Jeremy Uys

When announcing his plans to step down from his post in December, Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern stated that he will stay in his position until his successor was appointed. But while the time line of the search process for Alpern’s replacement remains unclear, several faculty at the School are questioning why the University has not appointed an interim dean who would succeed Alpern when his term concludes on June 30, 2019.

Eleven School of Medicine faculty members interviewed by the News diverged on whether it is in the University’s interest to appoint a interim dean. Five faculty members said Alpern will be able to more effectively manage important projects within the school by continuing to serve in his post until the new dean’s appointment than an interim dean. Still, six other faculty members said that an interim dean could improve the school in areas of Alpern’s weakness, such as improving its workplace environment.

“In general, if the Yale community is happy with the incumbent dean, it is much better to keep him or her until the new person arrives,” former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57 said.

“It takes a new dean at least three months to learn the job, and … that is not an efficient way to operate. But if the dean dies, leaves unexpectedly or becomes sick, you will have to hire an interim dean.”

University President Peter Salovey and University spokesman Tom Conroy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Alpern said he will not be involved in the process of appointing the next dean and declined to comment on all matters related to the search process.

According to Chauncey, when the University moves expeditiously, Yale can usually appoint a new dean within a year. Before Alpern came into office, neurosurgery professor Dennis Spencer served as the acting dean for almost a year starting in June 2003. Earlier that month, former Dean of the School of Medicine and Pediatrics professor David Kessler had announced that he was leaving the post for a new position at the University of California, San Francisco.

Alpern’s decision to step down from his post this December came amid the launch of the University’s next capital campaign, as well as the implementation of new campuswide science initiatives outlined in the University Science Strategy Committee’s report released in June. In an email to the School of Medicine community last December, Alpern stated that as Yale will be pursuing “many important initiatives over the next decade,” it would not be “optimal” for a deanship change to occur “in the middle of those efforts.”

In an email to the News, dermatology, pathology and genetics professor Keith Choate said having Alpern continue in his position will “confer stability to ongoing initiatives such as chair searches, which are already underway.”

“As President Salovey and I discussed, it is important that the medical school continue to move forward, addressing the many issues and opportunities that present themselves on a continuing basis,” Alpern said in an email to the News. “While the USSC strategy will take a number of years to fully implement, we are working with the university now to begin the process. We will also continue to pursue many other initiatives, such as our efforts to reduce student debt, maintain a leading curriculum, and provide state of the art research facilities for our faculty.”

Alpern added that during the remainder of his deanship, he plans to help recruit accomplished faculty members, implement the initiatives recommended in the USSC report and improve the workplace climate at the school.

But according to three School of Medicine faculty members — who all requested anonymity to preserve their relationship with Alpern — the school needs a change in deanship as soon as possible to make it a more welcoming place for its underrepresented minorities, including female professors and students.

In an email to the News, medicine professor and member of the School of Medicine Faculty Advisory Council Seonaid Hay said that while the council has not had a formal discussion on whether to appoint an interim dean, there were “rumblings that [having Alpern stay in his position] is not a good idea.”

The review of Alpern’s deanship took place as controversy swirled over Yale’s decision to grant a newly endowed professorship to cardiology professor Michael Simons, whom the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct found guilty of sexual harassment in 2013. Hundreds of School of Medicine alumni, students and faculty members signed a petition that criticized the school’s hostile climate during Alpern’s tenure and called for “new innovative leadership.”

“Handling cases of sexual misconduct or facilitating a healthy environment are not Dean Alpern’s areas of strength,” said one of the faculty members who spoke to the News on a condition of anonymity. “Choosing a new dean, or appointing an interim dean at least, seems to be the fastest way to move forward.”

But in an interview with the News in November, Alpern defended that he helped the school make “substantial progress in advancing all of [its] core missions — education, clinical care, research and climate.” He added that he addressed transparency in faculty compensation, improved parental leave policies and opened a second childcare center. In a University-wide email last December, Salovey also pointed out that Alpern recruited the inaugural deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and said he strived to create an inclusive and supportive environment at the School.

Alpern became the dean of the School of Medicine in 2004.

Marisa Peryer contributed reporting.

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