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Profs seek action on curriculum

Anticipating the impending deadline to reform the School of Medicine's curriculum for the fall of 2004, some members of the school's Curriculum Committee are expressing frustration at the current pace of planning and the quality of the administrative leadership.

Although there is widespread support for the direction of change, some members of the committee have raised questions recently about the preparedness of the committee for both the fall 2004 starting date and a January 2004 deadline to submit a "plan of action" to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical schools.

"With educational eyes, I think it's a rush," said Dr. Emil Petrusa, associate dean of curriculum assessment. "[A delay from fall 2004] would make sense to me... but there's an accreditation deadline. The LCME wants action."

Considering the potential advantage of the new curriculum, Petrusa said he felt the rush to be beneficial, as it will force the Curriculum Committee to be more proactive and engaged than it has been.

Dr. Edward Halperin, vice dean in the School of Medicine, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Medical Center and the administrator ultimately in charge of the curriculum transformation, said he felt the revision is moving forward at an appropriate speed.

"The most important thing is to get it right, not to get it fast," he said. "I think [the Curriculum Committee] is doing a fabulous job."

Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology Victor Nadler, who has been involved with every stage of curriculum planning and currently serves as co-chair of the Body and Disease subcommittee, disagreed.

"I think that we are nowhere right now," he said. "For reasons I don't understand, there's not a will by the people running this committee to make any decisions."

The School of Medicine has been planning a curriculum revision for nearly four years. In fall 1999, former vice dean for education Dr. Russel Kaufman held a retreat to discuss potential changes. Feeding on the results, a task force outlined revisions in early 2001.

Kaufman created the present Curriculum Committee in fall 2001--including the positions now held by Petrusa and Dr. Edward Buckley, associate dean of curriculum development--to implement the revisions. Kaufman left last April to head a Philadelphia research center.

Buckley said the plan remains to initiate the brunt of the changes in fall 2004. "Whether we can go with the full-blown change or not, I don't know."

Sandy Williams, dean of the School of Medicine, voiced support for the current pace of revision. "It is a major undertaking, and we expect some bumps along the way, but I am confident the initiative is in good hands and that reasonable progress is being made."

Countering this view, Nadler explained that his subcommittee--one of 20 working on different aspects of the curriculum--completed a first-draft design in June of last year, but has not yet had the opportunity to present it to the larger committee or to gain feedback on their plan's feasibility. "We can't move forward until we know how the new curriculum shapes up," he said.

Nadler, co-chair of the last curriculum committee in the late 1990s, attributed the slow progress to a vacancy of involved leadership following the departure of Kaufman, who initiated the changes. "We had a dean of education who was strongly committed to the process," he said. "Since he left last year, the process has struggled."

The current leadership has not been as engaged as Kaufman had been, Nadler said. "Up to this point, [Halperin] has not been involved at all. To my knowledge, as far as interaction with the committee as a whole, that's been a problem," he said. "In medical schools that have had successful curriculum changes, the change was led by a committed dean."

Halperin defended his record by pointing to the work of administrators directly under him, including Buckley. "My philosophy is to get out of their way and have them do it," he said. "I am ultimately responsible for adhering to the demands of faculty and students," he added. "I look at myself as being directly in charge.... Do I attend meetings every day? No. Dr. Buckley does."

Pointing to Molecules and Cells--a course derived from Curriculum Committee planning that was implemented last fall--as an example of a course that was not planned thoroughly enough, Petrusa expressed the need for more educational expertise and better planning. To meet this requirement, a professional educational expert was recently hired to assist Buckley.

More of these hires are needed, Petrusa said.

"If we had the educational support, we wouldn't have to look upon this plan as so optimistic," he said.


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