Thursday, February 20, 2014

A commendable record in dealing with conflict of interest issues

I received the following message today from Bill Burton, Interim Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, presumably in response to my blog post concerning the propriety of the Dean of Medicine being on the board of Novartis, and specifically my question: How can this person exercise a proper duty of care and loyalty to both institutions, not only in terms of time commitment, but also in terms of the overlapping scientific research and clinical interests of the two organizations?

The following statement is issued on behalf of the University:
"Dean Dimitri Azar has adhered to various policies set out by the University and the state, including a University Policy on Conflicts of Commitment and Interest; a University Code of Conduct; and the Illinois Ethics Act (all online at Provisions are made within all these policies for active participation by academic staff members in external activities. The University of Illinois views Dean Azar’s service on the Board of Director of Novartis as appropriate, given that the conflict of interest and commitment is well-managed. The UIC leadership and Dean Azar have commendable records of integrity and in dealing with conflict of interest issues associated with external activities."
This is a specially pertinent comment in light of the following excerpt from today's Chicago Tribune story:

Benedetti, the head of surgery, sought advice and permission from Jerry Bauman, interim vice president for health affairs, and Dr. Dimitri Azar, dean of the College of Medicine, according to an Oct. 23 email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"On one side it would be a lot of free publicity for our program, on the other side we could be criticized to be included in an industry generated campaign," Benedetti wrote. The two responded separately that the visibility would be good for the program.


Anonymous said...

This seems to be a remarkably faith-based organization, since they 'believe in' robotic surgery and expect us to 'believe' that the Dean et al are managing their conflicts of interest well, without providing us any supporting evidence in either case.

In my opinion the Dean should sign over all of his considerable earnings on the Novartis board to the hospital foundation as compensation for the time and commitment he takes away from his hospital duties and to reassure his staff that he will not be influenced by this conflict of interest. At a minimum, his situation is bad for staff morale and fosters jealousy and dissension; hardly exemplifying excellent leadership.

nonlocal MD

Budd said...

I believe these are the same people who have been advising Governor Christie on standards of propriety, given their familiarity with Illinois governors, Deans, etc. You can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

To: non local: great comment, a very ethical thing to do.

Trainee Tom said...

I find this 'brush it under the rug' "commendable" comment makes it look even worse. The emails clearly show that they knew this was a dicey endeavor before they said yes. There's not much that is commendable there.

Mitch said...

The UI response is so CYA, lacking in ethics as to be laughable were it not so sad and troubling.

Anonymous said...

As a former employee at the UIC medical school, I want to emphasize the need to keep the scrutiny on the leadership beyond the department of surgery.

At the beginning of the dean's tenure and well after the conflict of interest management plan was rubber stamped by campus leadership, the relationship with Novartis was identified as problematic by the former head of the college continuing medical education program. The issue was that the dean hosted a national ophthalmology conference at UIC which was sponsored (funded) by none other than Novartis. When the issue was brought to the dean's attention as a violation of the college conflict of interest policy which is even posted on the front page of the college website, there was great pressure placed on the continuing medication education director to bend to the will of leadership and unconditionally approve the arrangement. To her credit, the cme director held firm and the dean was forced to select a substitute faculty member to serve as the conference host. However, the case marginalized the cme director and she ultimately left the university because of the experience. The fact that the dean did not voluntarily recuse himself at the outset is emblematic of a profoundly unethical person in a position of authority.

There is a considerable track record of disturbing behavior from the dean including a past attempted to raise the college tuition a record 15% at about the same time as his trouble with cme director. After a student and faculty revolt, the tuition increase was ultimately revoked by the board of trustees because the college tuition rate was already significantly higher than competing public universities.

In any other environment, a vote of no confidence would have forced the dean out for misfeasance and malfeasance. No doubt that the dean will survive as long as a corrupt culture persists in the university leadership. The dean is just one of many notorious figures. No one has the stomach for sustained upheaval at an institution where the last two presidents were fired after short but controversial tenures and a chancellor who is being forced out because of ineptness.

Anonymous said...

"Dean Dimitri Azar has adhered to various policies set out by the University and the state, including a University Policy on Conflicts of Commitment and Interest; a University Code of Conduct; and the Illinois Ethics Act..."

Hmmm, history repeats itself. Dean Azar has proven a shameless self-promoter. Many on the faculty wonder who paid for the series of ads featuring Dean Azar in American Way magazine.

See advertorials dated:
- Nov. 15, 2010, pg 93
- Dec. 1, 2010, pg 77
- Dec. 15, 2010, pg 61
- May 1, 2011, pg 61
- May 15, 2011, pg 61

Or this:

Illinois tax payers? The faculty who were taking pay cuts?

One might contemplate why 1/3 the TENURED mid-level faculty left during his tenure as Chairman? (The senior 1/3 retired out, but have stayed on for the $$$!) He fired the accountant (12 years on the job who helped rebuild the department reserves after a previous Chairman debacle) who called him out on his behavior...