A dearth of patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina led Tulane University to cut 180 faculty members from the School of Medicine on December 8. Days later, Ian Taylor, the popular dean of the School of Medicine who had to watch as his faculty was depleted, resigned effective immediately.
Paul Whelton, Tulane’s senior vice president for health sciences, has taken over as the permanent dean. “We went through a very painful process that we all knew was necessary,” Whelton said. “For [Taylor], it was a challenge between his head and his heart.”
Taylor did not respond to messages.
President Scott S. Cowen asked Whelton to step in, and Whelton suggested that it be on a permanent basis, to curtail any more changes than needed. Whelton said that, as a friend, he was sorry to see Taylor go, but that he understands the decision. “It’s one thing when [someone being laid off] is incompetent, or lazy,” Whelton said. “It’s another when you have a lot of people who have been with the institution for many years and you have to separate them.”
Whelton said he spoke with some of the senior faculty members who will have to leave. He said that they were upset, but understood the position that the university is in. Tulane continued to pay medical faculty members after Katrina, and picked up the tab for faculty members’ salaries that had previously come from hospitals that Katrina shuttered. Whelton, who, according to several faculty members is well respected by the faculty, said that Tulane will continue to pay faculty members whose jobs have been eliminated for 3 to 12 months.
Whelton said that he’s received calls from faculty members expressing their surprise at the dismissal of particular colleagues. He said that faculty members would insist that the cut dismissed person was a money maker, rather than a sink. “We didn’t take a fiscal approach, we did what we needed to do for our mission,” Whelton said. “People have an inflated understanding of what it takes to be revenue neutral. You have to pay to keep machinery, retirement, health.”
Some faculty members are still a bit mystified at getting released. Robert Fisher is an associate professor of psychiatry, and the medical director for the Louisiana State Office of Mental Health. Fisher said the state pays his entire salary, and that Tulane actually makes money by collecting some administrative costs from the state. “I was a bit surprised at the layoff,” Fisher said.
He added that he is also an assistant professor in the School of Public Health, and he has not heard anything about the status of that position.
Tim G. Peterson, a clinical assistant professor of blood banking, was a volunteer. He said he got a dismissal letter listing the amount of salary and vacation Tulane owes him. “I lost a job I never had,” he said, adding that he will come back if Tulane ever invites him back. “I lost the chance to teach kids.”
Phillip Griffin, chief of psychiatry, was laid off. Griffin suspects that administrators might not have known all the names on the list of layoffs. He said that he knew of two people on the dismissal list who had already left the university. “We had people on the list who had resigned a year ago,” he said.
Whelton and several faculty members do see eye to eye on at least one thing: the need to build sturdy levees. President Bush said on Thursday that he would request an extra $1.5 billion to rebuild the levee system. Whelton said that the medical school can’t even think about growth until there’s a “fulfilled commitment by the federal government toward levee protection,” adding that “if we get another hurricane with major flooding, I mean, we’re dead. I might as well get in my car and drive out of town.”