Sources: School of Dentistry must change

As the search for a permanent dean continues, faculty sources have called out current and past administrators and are waiting to see if their voices will be heard.
This article features an interactive timeline.
By
  • Anders Johnson and Kevin Schaul
October 31, 2011

Alleged intimidation and favoritism have embittered faculty at the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry for years, interviews show.

As the school prepares to hand its reins over to a new dean, faculty members wonder whether change is on the way, and if their voice matters to the administration.

In extensive interviews with the Minnesota Daily, current and former faculty members alleged years of what they claim was oppressive leadership within the school. The concerns are ongoing.

According to these sources:

  • Personal relationships and favoritism continue to factor into administrative hiring decisions.
  • Former Dean Patrick Lloyd’s autocratic decision-making and micromanagement alienated some faculty members.
  • Fear of retribution suppressed disagreement and debate.

Lloyd’s departure in July led many to believe the problems they said he was responsible for could dissipate with a new administration. Recent controversy in the school may indicate otherwise.

Contradicting faculty and student input, University officials appointed Judith Buchanan — an administrator that Lloyd recruited and who came to the University in 2005 — as interim dean.

The controversy intensified in early August when Buchanan announced she would appoint her husband to a leadership position in the school, raising concerns of nepotism.

As the search for a permanent dean continues, many faculty members are clinging to hope that a new administration will reverse the climate they say permeated the school under Lloyd.

In an email to some faculty, professor Muriel Bebeau criticized Buchanan for promoting her own husband.

“The issue our department is facing is something worth fighting about,” Bebeau wrote in the email obtained by the Daily.

“If we hope to have some say in the next administration of this school, the time to speak up is now.”

An empty vote

If dentistry faculty members had their first choice, professor Mike Rohrer would be interim dean.

The process of temporarily filling Lloyd’s position started in late May. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Tom Sullivan asked faculty, staff, students and alumni for input. When more than 90 faculty members voted for their favored candidates, many thought the results would be a deciding factor in the search.

Rohrer came out on top, and a group of faculty members congratulated him on what they presumed to be his upcoming appointment.

But without explanation, Judith Buchanan was named interim dean. She had placed last out of the four eligible faculty candidates and wasn’t one of the three choices students submitted to Sullivan in a separate vote.

The new position came with a $50,000 salary raise.

To some faculty, Buchanan was a reasonable choice — as associate dean for academic affairs, she was qualified. To others, the selection came as a message from top administrators that faculty opinions didn’t matter.

“I couldn’t understand the choice,” said associate professor Thomas Larson, who supported Rohrer. “But I wasn’t the one picking.”

Sullivan said that ultimately he was required to listen to all stakeholders. The faculty’s vote was only one of many factors.

“[Faculty] opinion was heard,” Buchanan said in an interview with the Daily. “Now, the problem is — and sometimes this is true of people — they equate being heard with being agreed with.”

But it’s not just the appointment process that frustrated some faculty members. Buchanan was often absent for travel and outside consulting work, said one clinical faculty member who requested confidentiality because of concerns of losing his job. Several professors, including Larson and Bebeau, said Buchanan changed curriculums without adequately consulting faculty.

“The people that she works with most closely really didn’t support her as an idea for interim dean,” the clinical faculty member said.

But the widespread fear was that Buchanan would continue the same purportedly repressive atmosphere many said existed under Lloyd, her predecessor.

Divisive leadership

More than 100 dentistry school students and faculty members gathered in McNamara Alumni Center in June 2008 for the memorial service of a respected colleague who died of a heart attack. Dean Patrick Lloyd was not among them.

Lloyd often clashed with Charlie Schachtele, a former associate dean, and at the request of Schachtele’s widow, Lloyd was asked not to attend.

“I knew that Charlie would turn in his grave to have Lloyd involved with his memorial service,” family friend Richard Simonsen wrote in an emailed response to a Daily inquiry.

As with other faculty members who challenged Lloyd, Schachtele’s relationship with him soured. The two butted heads, “probably because Lloyd could not control Charlie,” Simonsen wrote.

Throughout his seven-year tenure as dean, sources said Lloyd attempted to control every aspect of the school — from dictating course content to picking paint colors. People who spoke out against his vision often felt they risked retribution.

Several faculty members said that when Lloyd was upset with employees in the school, he would sometimes call them into his office to scream and curse at them.

Because of their problems with his administration, some faculty members left.

The Daily repeatedly sought comment from Lloyd for this article. He responded with a letter through an attorney.

Among his responses, Lloyd called one faculty member’s claim of being yelled at a “personal perception” that didn’t match his own recollection.

Within the School of Dentistry, Lloyd’s tenure was divisive. Some faculty members swear by Lloyd and his accomplishments. They said they weren’t familiar with events related to Lloyd that troubled their colleagues.

“The stature of the School of Dentistry has been increased nationally, regionally and locally, I feel, because of Dean Lloyd’s literally seven days a week of promoting the school,” said Larry Wolff, an interim chairman in the school who worked closely with Lloyd.

As dean, Lloyd helped increase the school’s yearly fundraising from $1 million to $3 million. In his last year, he also secured a $3.5 million gift for a children’s dental clinic. He hired 41 new faculty members, 18 of whom were women, and those he brought in expanded research funding sources.

Provost Sullivan said Lloyd “substantially moved the school forward.”

For those in Lloyd’s favor, the dean was a powerful ally.

Before a faculty position opened for hire in 2008, Lloyd asked the search committee to tailor the position’s posting to a person who ultimately got the job, said Nelson Rhodus, a dentistry professor on the committee. Rhodus then withdrew his participation in the search and called the process a “total farce.”

In his emailed response, Lloyd said several other people were involved in that hiring decision.

Buchanan, her husband and six others during Lloyd’s time got tenure upon their arrival to the school. Faculty members alleged that Lloyd conducted the process without proper faculty input, triggering a University investigation.

The inquiry found the dentistry school’s hiring practices had not violated University policy, but at a 2010 Academic Health Center faculty committee meeting, members said the investigation wasn’t thorough enough.

Dentistry associate professor Paul Olin told the committee that more needs to be done to correct hiring issues. He said the school’s hiring policies were the product of a “debilitative hierarchical structure,” according to meeting minutes.

Members also said they should conduct their own investigation, but it was unclear how such a review could move forward, and it never happened.

Lloyd left the school for Ohio State University in July to become dean of its College of Dentistry, but many faculty members still feel uncomfortable discussing their issues openly. Throughout weeks of interviews, many hesitated to speak freely or without confidentiality about Lloyd’s time at the University.

‘Nothing to be done’

If dentistry faculty members were so upset with the school’s leadership and direction, why didn’t top-level University officials step in?

It’s unclear how many complaints made it to them.

Employees said they thought anonymous reporting wouldn’t result in action and wouldn’t stay anonymous, raising concerns about the possibility of reprisal.

The handful of complaints that did make it to Frank Cerra, Lloyd’s former supervisor, were evaluated and discussed with Lloyd.

“Usually, we found the allegations to be unfounded or misunderstandings,” Cerra, former vice president for health sciences, wrote in an email.

Cerra refused to elaborate in a follow-up phone interview if any of the investigations showed that faculty members’ allegations were founded.

Although they only supervised him directly for seven months, the two administrators that currently oversee the dentistry dean said they didn’t hear any concerns until after Lloyd announced he was leaving.

“Not once, not once in that time did I receive any complaint about Patrick Lloyd,” Provost Sullivan told the Daily.

Two anonymous ethics complaints were filed against Lloyd between 2005 and August 2011. The exact dates and reasons for the complaints aren’t public under Minnesota public data law because investigations found the allegations to be unsubstantiated.

That’s also why the complaints wouldn’t have reached top administrators, University spokeswoman Patty Mattern said.

Aaron Friedman, who took over for Cerra in January, said he didn’t receive any complaints either. He said “it is impossible to believe” that seven years of complaints would fail to reach senior administrators like him.

Four tenured dentistry professors, including Nelson Rhodus, met with Sullivan in June to address their concerns about Lloyd’s leadership style.

Rhodus planned the meeting before Lloyd announced he was leaving, and kept it when the faculty heard of the dean’s departure.

Sullivan and Friedman referenced the meeting only to comment that, “at that point, there was nothing to be done.”

But Rhodus and his colleagues felt the opposite — it was their chance to insist that, in its search for the next dean, the administration use Lloyd’s leadership style as an example of what not to look for.

For the school to get back on track and move forward, Rhodus said, selecting a markedly different dean would be crucial.

Married with benefits?

Buchanan’s interim position, expected to last about a year, could begin a new era in the school.

But one of her first acts may have marred her deanship from the start.

During her second week, Buchanan announced in a dentistry school newsletter that she would promote her husband, Peter Berthold, to interim chairman of the Department of Primary Dental Care.

Soon after Buchanan’s announcement, faculty liaisons Jill Stoltenberg and David Bereiter started hearing concerns from across the school. They received more than a dozen email or in-person complaints and met with faculty members, they said.

They brought the objections to Buchanan and asked her to reconsider the decision.

Bereiter, chairman of the school’s Faculty Consultative Committee, told Buchanan that promoting her husband could become her “legacy” as interim dean.

Buchanan was surprised to hear that many considered the appointment problematic.

When Bereiter and Stoltenberg left the meeting, “there was no assurance that anything was going to change,” Bereiter said.

In an email the next day, Buchanan called Bereiter and Stoltenberg’s points “valid,” but wrote, “I see it differently.”

“I had enormous hope when I thought we were going to get interim leadership that would restore faculty governance,” professor Muriel Bebeau said in an interview. “But, you know, the first act is the failure of consultation.”

Buchanan and top administrators said Berthold’s managerial and accreditation experience warranted the post. Buchanan said he would not have received a pay raise.

“There was not another person I felt comfortable with asking to lead as chair,” Buchanan said.

Associate professor Steve Shuman balked at that explanation.

“That’s the issue — comfortable,” he said. “What does she mean by comfortable?

“I think it’s best to find leadership that everyone’s comfortable with.”

Top administrators questioned the timing of the announcement, which came before a key step: The nepotism management plan for Buchanan’s promotion of her husband had not yet been established.

University President Eric Kaler said Buchanan “got ahead of herself in making that announcement.”

Sullivan also called the move “premature,” but said Buchanan conformed with University nepotism policies as she worked to finalize the appointment.

“I think that I probably would have tried to come up with a different solution,” Buchanan said of her intention to appoint her husband. “I didn’t anticipate so much concern about it.”

When Sullivan learned of Buchanan’s plans to promote her husband — nearly two weeks after she told faculty — he halted the appointment and called a meeting.

The resolution was to have four division heads, including Berthold, lead the department to avoid giving Berthold sole decision-making power.

The nepotism management plan was signed more than two weeks after Berthold began his new leadership position. Under the plan, administrators meet to discuss his activities twice a month. To bypass his wife, Berthold reports directly to AHC Vice President Friedman.

Berthold declined multiple requests for comment.

About 40 faculty members gathered for an emergency meeting Sept. 27 to discuss concerns about Buchanan, her appointments, faculty governance and the permanent dean search.

Faculty members still had concerns about the four-person committee leading the Primary Dental Care department. They asked that faculty leaders bring their concerns to Buchanan directly a second time.

In mid-October, faculty leaders from multiple departments told Buchanan that the committee was a departure from the school’s constitution, which states that a “chairperson” will lead each department.

“It’s a person — it’s not a group, it’s not plural,” Bereiter said.

Technically, the link between Buchanan and Berthold has been cut, but he still has personal access to the dean that “could be influential in the running of the department,” said Stoltenberg, secretary of the faculty’s council.

Buchanan listened and responded civilly to faculty points at the meeting, Stoltenberg said.

But when Buchanan left, faculty leaders still had no idea if anything would change.

Two ethics complaints have been filed against Buchanan using the University’s anonymous reporting system between 2005 and August 2011. Further details, including the nature and dates of the complaints, aren’t available under Minnesota public data law because investigations found the allegations to be unsubstantiated.

‘Things are really heating up’

On Sept. 1, Judith Buchanan forwarded an email she had received from University faculty to Patrick Lloyd at Ohio State.

She shared with him faculty concerns about the Department of Primary Dental Care’s committee leadership. The faculty email was originally sent to Buchanan and top administrators.

Above faculty criticisms in the email, Buchanan wrote a personal note to Lloyd.

“Patrick, Things are really heating up as you can see. Wish I was there. Judith.”

As they raise their concerns, faculty members wonder if anything will change under Buchanan, and eventually with the selection of a new dean.

Buchanan told the Daily she’s trying to set a new tone.

“We are making an effort to do things a bit differently, just because I’m a different person than Dean Lloyd was,” Buchanan said in an interview two months after she took office.

“He was a bit of a micromanager,” she said.

Faculty members hope for “a true partnership” with the interim dean, professor Bereiter said.

So far, it’s unclear if Buchanan will act on their concerns.

Faculty members are rallying their ideas for the future of the School of Dentistry and say strengthening their role in governance is key.

They have grown weary of being ignored, professor Thomas Larson said, and the administration must do more than “pay lip service” to the faculty.

“It is not a small vocal minority,” he said. “It is, in fact, a majority.”

 

Kathryn Elliott can be reached at (612) 435-5658.

James Nord can be reached at (612) 435-1574.

 

— Katherine Lymn contributed to this report.

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