School of Medicine Dean Richard Krugman, MD, announced in
January that he would step down as Dean when a search for his successor is
completed. To honor his achievements and to celebrate the School’s history, the
School is planning the Bow Tie Ball on Nov. 15.
During more than 24
years leading the school, Krugman has presided over an era of unprecedented
growth and prestige, nurturing careers, mentoring colleagues, building a team
of physicians and scientists who are training a generation of new leaders in
research and medicine and providing world-class care to patients. In the 24
years before he became dean, the School of Medicine had 11 different deans or
acting deans and five of those had served in the decade preceding Krugman’s
appointment as interim dean in 1990. Since becoming dean, more than 4,000
physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists and medical scientists
earned degrees from the School and launched their careers. Krugman has
appointed all Department chairs, major center directors and senior leadership
at the School, established a workplace that values collaboration, directed the
School’s move to the nation’s newest academic medical center campus and
strengthened the School’s financial foundation by overseeing the growth of its
successful physician practice plan, University Physicians, Inc.
Why did you decide
now to step down as Dean and what do you plan to do next?
It was a syzygy. You know what a syzygy is? No? S-y-z-y-g-y.
Things came together. A syzygy is an unusual alignment of several things that
don’t normally align that way. The first time I learned about the word syzygy
was in 1980 when we fired off Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 because it turned out
that the planets in the solar system were aligned in such a way that one rocket
could pass by every single planet on a single trip. And that normally doesn’t
happen. So syzygies are not very common. They are the unusual alignment of
normally disparate events.
So, among the syzygies, there were work reasons, there were family
reasons, there were personal and professional reasons and that included No. 1 I
have been in the job longer than most and I’m pleased with what we’ve accomplished.
Having reached the point that I’ve actually recruited all of the chairs and all
the major center directors in the school, I thought it was the right time to
move on as I heard a President say once, about 50 years ago, and pass the torch
to another generation.
Professionally, I was on my way to do a study and try to
make some major changes in the child abuse field in 1990 when I got into this
job. I put off a sabbatical at that time to take this job because I thought it
would only last a year or two. Interestingly, the problems I was trying to work
on in that field are still there 24 years later and I think I’d like to have
the next phase of my career be just a professor working in the area that is
pretty important for me.
It seems like a long
time has passed. The conditions you wanted to study are still the same?
No one has done the study I want to do. The child protection
system in the United States is still struggling. The approach that this country
has taken to try to help abused children and their parents wasn’t working in
1990 and I don’t see any evidence that it’s working any better now. And the
systems I wanted to study in Europe, for the most part, are still there,
although they’ve changed some. But neither system has any data to support their
assertions that they have good outcomes. And, from my perspective, that’s in
part what needs to be done in the field of child abuse.
And, you know, the truth is I’m 71 and I figure I’ve got at
least a decade for this next career and I think it will take me a decade, by
the way, and if I waited a lot longer, I’m not so sure. I’ve looked at the
longevity of males in my family and they range from 84 to 97, so I think the
time’s right for another career.
How did it come to be
that you were asked to be the interim Dean?
On Monday afternoon, July 2, at 4:30 I got a call from the
Chancellor, Bernie Nelson, at the Kempe Center (where Krugman was director), who
said the Dean has resigned, I need to talk to you about who should be acting Dean.
Could you stop by the house? So I got there and I gave him three names and he
said, ‘Well, those are fine, but actually, I need you to do this job.’ And I
said, ‘Well, I can’t do this job because I’m going to Belgium.’
He said, ‘You don’t understand. I really need you to do this
job.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, there are warring
factions in your school, you know that. I asked the chairs to give me names of
who might be acting Dean and you were No. 5 on one list and No. 13 on the other
list, but the only one on both lists. I need you do the job. And I said, ‘That’s not a ringing
endorsement. I think I’m going to go to Belgium.’ And he said, ‘Please don’t
say no to me. Talk to your family. Let’s have breakfast tomorrow morning and we
can talk again.’
Three months into the job, Bernie said, ‘the President, the
Regents and I think you’re doing very good job. There’s been a lot of turnover
in the School. We would like to give you a three year contract as dean.’ And I
said ‘I appreciate the support but I’ve always believed that if your only
support is above you, you’re hanging. So, why don’t you start a search and if
the chairs and the students and the faculty think I should be in the job after
a search, I’m happy to consider the job, but I’m not going to just take the
job.’ He and I had this conversation almost monthly and in March of 91 I said, ‘Who’s
the next dean? I’m going to Belgium in July.’ And he said, ‘You’re serious?’
And I said I’ve been serious for six months. I said I’m not taking the job
without a search. So they started a search and I didn’t apply.
Why? You didn’t want
I didn’t apply because I really wanted to go to Belgium to
do this study.
Well, in mid-May the chair of the search committee and a
number of faculty came to see me and said you know we think you’re doing a good
job and we think you should apply. There are some good candidates but we think
that you should apply. So I said, OK and I put off my trip to Belgium again and
went through the process.
In December, there was a schoolwide retreat to try to get
some consensus on how could the school solve the problem of the incredible
turnover in the Dean’s job. I missed that retreat because I wound up in the
hospital with appendicitis. I had an emergency appendectomy on the night of Dec.
16, 1991, and when I woke up the next morning, among other people at my bed was
the chancellor who said he’d gotten my name from the search committee and he
wanted to negotiate. And I said, that’s nice, but I don’t negotiate on
morphine. I’ll see you after the first of the year.
Sounds like the
retreat solved the issue of turnover.
I have no idea. Nobody ever shared with me what the results
What are your
favorite accomplishments as dean?
The curriculum change we got in place for the medical students
in 2005, the move to this campus, having 24, 23 chairs now, and a dozen major
center directors who really do work with each other. Those are the big ones.
As Dean, you preside
over a faculty that includes neurosurgeons and pediatricians and cardiologists…
And psychiatrists and basic scientists…and every one of them
think differently, solve problems differently and communicate differently, if
they communicate at all. And that’s why, I’ve said this before and people
always sort of laugh or don’t understand it, being in child abuse work for 10
years was really good preparation for this job because in that work you have to
work with physicians, lawyers, social workers, law enforcement, criminal and
civil judges, educators. They all think differently, they all solve problems
differently. They all see life from their own perspective and if you’re going
to be successful on behalf of the child and the family, you need to be able to
work as a multidisciplinary team. You need to listen and take what they say into
It turns out that schools or universities are not very
different. And in this environment, it’s not just all of the faculty and the
departments, but it’s five different hospitals, it’s different health systems,
it’s alumni, it’s the legislature, it’s everybody who’s got a different
perspective on what the job is. They are made up of all these very different
groups of people, but the analogue to the child and the family is that if this
school and the university are going to be successful, you have to make sure
that all of its parts work well together.