The University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine has been given the go-ahead by university council to revamp its academic governance model, despite passionate opposition from a throng of students and faculty.
A full house of doctors packed the Neatby-Timlin theatre May 17 to plead that council reject a recommendation from university administration to rethink the strategy of the college. After two hours of heated debate between college department heads and university administrators, and with the microphones used to address council still backlogged with guests waiting to speak, council voted to approve a plan that will drastically change the college’s operations.
The restructuring plan, based off a concept paper drawn up and distributed in April, aims to improve methods of clinical instruction in the undergraduate medical education program and to clarify roles and responsibilities of clinical instruction within the college. The plan is also meant to enhance overall research performance.
There were 38 votes in favour, 26 opposed and two abstentions, cast in a rare secret ballot.
Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn, who helped map the restructuring plan, said the new strategy is crucial in ensuring the quality of the college’s teaching, researching and clinical practices.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in a time of change, especially when we’re talking about a significant restructuring,” Fairbairn said after the vote. “I completely understand people’s anxieties and I’ll be doing everything that I can to provide reassurance in the days ahead.”
Distressed faculty at the meeting argued that the concept paper was conceived without proper consultation. They said they worried the plan had been forced from the top-down and would be unmanageable with the province’s doctors already overworked.
“Are you going to support a motion for a major restructuring change to the college, which was developed in secret by three people, which is being rushed from unveiling to adoption in 39 days, which is opposed by 87 per cent of the students and faculty of the college and which has no obvious connection to the solution to our problems?” Tom Wilson, chair of the college of medicine’s faculty council, asked university council. “It will have negative consequences for our total mission, not the least of which is loss of faculty.”
Dean of Medicine William Albritton supports the structural change and said it is a model many other universities have in place. He said implementing the plan will ensure that the U of S can compete for medical research grants, an area the college lags in compared to its Canadian counterparts.
Fairbairn told those in attendance at the meeting that the problem is not the doctors and faculty of the college, but that the current system is not capable of providing the appropriate services.
“I’m worried that giving this college more rope will be more rope to hang itself with,” he said.
The Committee on the Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools and the American Liaison Committee on Medical Education wrote in a letter to Albritton in July 2011, that a team of inspectors identified 10 areas of weakness the medical college needed to improve upon when visiting the college three months earlier.
The accreditors wrote that if the college did not activate a plan to resolve the weaknesses within 10 to 15 months, it would result in the college being put on probation and at risk of losing accreditation.
In December 2011, the college submitted a plan of action to the accreditors that was accepted. Their team is expected back at the U of S in March 2013.
President of the Professional Association of Internes and Residents of Saskatchewan (PAIRS) Nick Peti, who represents hundreds of U of S postgraduate medical students, said he was disappointed that council chose to ignore the recommendations of their own students and faculty.
“We think that the value placed on student opinion is quite low, both with the university council and with the College of Medicine. We saw three people basically change the course of an entire college in spite of what their students thought. I think it will be very difficult to regain the trust that they have lost in all levels of their medical school …. This will just disenfranchise medical students,” Peti said outside the theatre following the decision.
Albritton said students, residents, faculty and administrators will form committees in the coming months to develop an implementation plan.
“We need to show progress by March,” Albritton said.
The new governance model takes effect in January 2013.
Abritton is soon scheduled to step down as dean and take on a behind-the-scenes role in the restructuring. A replacement has not been announced.
Photo: On Campus News