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Abruptly Dismissed
Morehouse School of Medicine loses president as accreditation date draws near

By Marlon A. Walker

The Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) has gone into a state of transition weeks before an important site visit by the board that will determine whether the school retains its accreditation.

With the December dismissal of the school’s president, Dr. James R. Gavin III, many in the community feel the school may be affected when the accreditation board visits this month. Interim President Dr. David Satcher feels the visit, which he had the option to cancel, will go off without a hitch.

“We feel we should be ready for the site visit,” says Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General, who’s still holding down his position as director of the National Center for Primary Care at the medical school.

Alumni and faculty were shocked by the abrupt removal of Gavin announced in December at a town hall meeting. Some were concerned with the fact there’s already a national search for a dean with the departure of Dr. Nigel Harris, who left to become vice chancellor for the University of the West Indies. Many were left wondering what had gone wrong that had not been visible to the community. According to John Grant, the executive director of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc., the school had become more visible under Gavin’s leadership.

“In the last few years, we saw the Morehouse School of Medicine had reached out and developed more relations within the community,” says Grant, who mentioned that Gavin is a member of 100 Black Men.

Gavin’s dismissal came as a shock to those who worked with him before he was chosen to lead MSM in 2002.

“He is someone who enjoyed a great deal of respect here,” says Avice Meehan, the vice president of public affairs at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., where Gavin worked as a senior scientific officer before he left to lead MSM.

There, he helped develop the Cloister Program, where medical students come to do research with senior scientists from the National Institutes of Health for up to a year.

“He worked closely with several of our scientists,” Meehan says.

According to a report in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Gavin described himself as the victim of a “vendetta,” and said he is prepared to defend his performance. In a Dec. 6 memo to the medical school community, he said there was “no valid claim for a performance-based complaint” against him and that board members “simply want me gone.”

Grant says he has a problem with the fact that there was no due process given to the former president. The lack of due process is an issue the community has had with the abrupt decision handed down by the school’s board of trustees.

“The concern from our organization was the ripple effect that (the school would feel) across the country,” he says. “At this point, we have supported the decision…We commit our support to Dr. Satcher because of our support to the school as a whole.”

Satcher says he agreed to be the school’s interim leader to prepare the institution for a new president — and a new direction.

“This is not a good time to do a (presidential) search,” he says. “There is a lot of healing to be done internally and externally.”

Satcher was among the early Gavin supporters in wake of the decision by trustees to dismiss the president. He said by being placed in charge of the school, he hasn’t had time to dwell on the fallout that led to Gavin’s dismissal.

“Let me just say the issue was between the board and the president,” he says. “I see it as a marriage that didn’t work out and there was a divorce.

“There was an agreement on both sides that the institution would move forward.”

Satcher says he plans to work on establishing a better working relationship between the school and its trustees. He also looks forward to bringing new members onto the board and “balancing funding streams.”

“Regardless of the matter, institutions are more important that the people who serve them,” he says. “They go on. (The Morehouse School of Medicine) will still be here after we’re gone.”

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