On July 1, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will welcome its first African-American president, William F. Owen Jr., an accomplished researcher and clinician.
Owen is leaving his position as chancellor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to oversee more than 5,500 students attending New Jersey’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health-related professions, a school of nursing and a school of public health spread across five campuses.
“A considerable number of highly qualified candidates demonstrated great interest in the presidency at UMDNJ,” says Dr. Harold T. Shapiro, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, who led the presidential search committee. “Owen’s vision of what was possible for UMDNJ’s future — coupled with his commitment to education, biomedical research and community service, along with his demonstrated capacity for leadership in challenging situations — made him our first choice.
“More importantly, our sense of excitement was echoed by the responses from students, faculty and staff who met with Owen during his visits to the campus,” adds Shapiro, who also serves as a UMDNJ trustee and president emeritus.
Owen faces many challenges when he takes the helm of UMDNJ, which is the No. 1 producer of minority doctors, according to Diverse’s Top 100 Graduate Degree Producers edition. UMDNJ has been facing mounting criticism over long-standing financial and political abuses. In December 2005, former federal prosecutor Herbert J. Stern was named as UMDNJ’s financial monitor by federal officials who alleged that the university had been overbilling federal and state governments for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for at least six years.
Stern’s appointment was done as part of a “deferred prosecution agreement” that prevented UMDNJ from being criminally indicted as long as it cooperated in the investigation. .
In the past year, UNDNJ has either lost or removed the leadership of all three of its medical schools, as well as its school of nursing. Within the past two weeks, Stern released a quarterly report crediting UMDNJ for taking steps to improve its internal controls. However, he also cited illegal patient billing by an associate dean dating back to 2002, as well as some continuing failures of the new bidding procedures, according to news reports.
In a May newspaper interview, Owen noted that UMDNJ’s trustees have already begun to take measures toward reform, including adopting a new policy for faculty, staff and students to report suspected ethical and legal issues. Trustees recently approved a tuition hike and cut in salaries. Here, Owen talks to Diverse about his plans for UMDNJ:
DI: What do you plan to improve at UMDNJ in order for the institution to move past the recent scandals?
Owen: UMDNJ is an outstanding health institution that has earned the audacity to strive for greatness. Therefore, the development of heralded educational, research, service and economic products for New Jersey’s people is a fair and realistic expectation of UMDNJ’s next president. Implementing this vision will require a balance between entrepreneurship and collective and coordinated action by faculty, staff, students, and administration.
DI: Talk about your short-term and long-term goals for the university.
Owen: A critical early task in my new, exciting role is to perform a broad and deep environmental scan of UMDNJ. This task will allow us to identify and accelerate our successes and better prioritize our resources. A key long-term goal for UMDNJ is to be an increasingly valued resource for the citizens that operates with integrity and transparency. These are minimal but obligatory values for an institution with a base of public support and mission of public service. Substantial progress has been achieved by our current board of trustees, interim president [Bruce] Vladeck and monitor Howard J. Stern. On these we will continue to build.
DI: Are there any groups or organizations you plan to work closely with in the coming months?
Owen: We will execute our vision by functioning as a highly cohesive team. Teamwork in this context refers to building upon, reestablishing and developing partnerships with stakeholder constituencies inside and outside of UMDNJ. We intend to be assessable and engaging. Immersive, service-based leadership and partnership will be our norm.
DI: How do you plan to improve the academic success of students from all ethnic backgrounds?
Owen: Service organizations are most effective when they can bring the needs of their constituency to the development and provision of their products. This is also true for academic health centers, whose products are the training of the next generation of health providers, the invention of cutting-edge medical interventions, provision of compassionate health care, and service to the community. Therefore, the wonderful diversity of those that we serve must be reflected at all levels within our organization. Great and unique achievements have been accomplished in this area by UMDNJ. Therefore, neither complacency nor indifference about diversity is acceptable, and we will build on past accomplishments with focus.
DI: Did you see yourself in this role? And how does it feel to be selected from so many candidates?
Owen: Few are blessed with the opportunity to serve in an executive capacity for a Tier 1 health institution like UMDNJ — with our unique, innovative and attractive programs of service. I am deeply honored to join the New Jersey family and become part of the wonderful UMDNJ team.
– Darren Williams
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com