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Wayne State to cut 37 medical school faculty positions

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Wayne State University’s School of Medicine could lose 37 faculty members through retirement or termination, according to a letter sent to faculty Friday from the dean of the medical school.

The dean, Dr. Jack Sobel, said 18 faculty members have “agreed to retire, accept phased retirement or received notice of nonrenewal of their contract.” Eight other members selected separation agreements and will remain on staff until their departure dates, most which will not be effective before Sept. 1, Sobel’s letter said.

Another 11 faculty members will be recommended for dismissal, according to the letter provided by a faculty union president.

The notice Friday follows an announcement by the university that Sobel said addresses “a small minority of faculty members viewed as underproductive or unproductive.”

The 37 faculty members are researchers among 700 staff in the basic sciences and clinical departments, said Charles Parrish, president of the American Association of University Professors-AFT Michigan Local 6075. There are more than 1,000 full-time equivalent and affiliate faculty and 2,000 voluntary faculty in the School of Medicine, according to the university.

The union said it will provide representation for faculty members to ensure their rights are not violated, Parrish said.

“This will have an impact on what the medical school is able to do in terms of moving forward in research and teaching,” Parrish said.

Parrish, who declined to name affected faculty members, said that many have contributed greatly to the university over the years. He noted funding cuts from the National Institutes of Health as a reason for the decrease in grant money researchers are able to obtain to do their work.

“The way the administration defines productivity, they define it based on how much research money you bring in,” he said. “It’s harder to get grants ... It’s a complex situation. Some people who have contributed a lot are on the list.”

Representatives of the medical school did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A university representative declined to comment Monday.

Last year, WSU officials made public a $29 million deficit among the Wayne State medical school, the University Physician Group and the Fund for Medical Research and Education. At the time, officials said it would take three years to eliminate.

In his letter, Sobel said that while the process of reducing staff has been challenging, “it was a critical and necessary step toward allowing our many productive faculty members to thrive, and will result in our emerging stronger as one of the nation’s most robust urban medical colleges and centers of research.”

Tenured faculty would not be immediately dismissed and affected faculty are notified one year in advance of the dismissal date, he said.

“The dismissal process for tenured faculty is extremely specific and is spelled out in Section 2.51 ‘Appointments, Continuing Tenure, Termination and Dismissal Policies and Procedures for Faculty’ of the Wayne State University Board of Governors Statutes,” Sobel said in the letter.

“Those faculty members have the right to a hearing as outlined in the statutes and have the right to be represented and assisted by both academic and legal counsel of their choosing. The university will follow the process as outlined.”

Wayne State University is known nationally for its cancer center, pediatric services at Children’s Hospital, pioneering psychiatric treatments and its bone marrow transplant program. The medical school brings in about $100 million annually in biomedical research funding, according to school officials, who say they want to raise that figure.

The cuts come as the School of Medicine is engaged in contract talks with the Detroit Medical Center about doctor pay and the long-term partnership with the Detroit Medical Center and School of Medicine. WSU wants to broaden the talks to include joint strategies that would raise the profiles of the medical school and the DMC, Michigan’s largest health care provider.

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