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Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine Gets Interim Dean

Duane Compton has been named Interim Dean for the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth College photograph)

Duane Compton has been named Interim Dean for the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth College photograph)

Lebanon — A biochemical researcher without a medical degree has been tapped to serve as interim dean of Dartmouth’s financially troubled Geisel School of Medicine during a transition that a college spokeswoman said was expected to take “a few years.”

On Tuesday, Duane Compton filled a vacancy created with the June 19 announcement that former dean Wiley “Chip” Souba had decided not to seek reappointment after four years on the job.

Diana Lawrence, a Dartmouth spokeswoman, said that it was “too early to say what the search process will be” to find a permanent replacement for Souba. Preparing for the search was expected to require “a few years of effort by Duane and the Geisel community,” she added.

The choice of Compton, who has been at the medical school since 1993 and now holds a permanent appointment as a professor of biochemistry and the title of senior associate dean for research, was announced by Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon in a news release that noted Compton’s “capable, practiced leadership.” As dean, Compton will report to Provost Carolyn Dever, who became the college’s second-ranking administrator on July 1.

Hanlon also noted the medical school’s current financial woes. “We have all pulled together during the past year to address Geisel’s financial challenges while setting a course to keep the (medical school) at the forefront of education, research and clinical practice,” he said.

Some on the faculty cited financial pressures as a factor that led to Souba’s unexpected departure. Souba, who remains on the medical school faculty, did not respond to an emailed request for comment Thursday.

Efforts to trim spending have not always gone smoothly. Earlier this year, a decision to halt admissions to an MD-PH.D program that aims to train “physician-scientists” triggered a wave of protests. According to an editorial in the campus newspaper, Compton informed students in the program of the decision, which was later rescinded.

Geisel, with an operating budget of $275 million in fiscal year 2013, posted a $5.5 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and needs an additional $10 million in revenue to cover expected expenses over the next two years.

In a statement relayed by Dartmouth’s public affairs office Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Rick Mills said the medical school “continues to project, before mitigating efforts, losses of that size. We are clearly working with Duane and the Geisel community to change that outcome.” Mills was formerly executive dean for administration at Harvard Medical School. Compton was a member of the advisory committee that oversaw the search that brought Mills to Dartmouth.

Compton earned a doctorate of philosophy at the University of Texas in Houston in 1988, a decade after Souba earned a medical degree from the same institution.

Leslie Fall, a professor of pediatrics and associate dean for faculty development, said that an inquiry about Compton’s lack of a medical degree was “a reasonable question to ask” but said that she strongly endorsed his selection. She said she had worked with him, seen him show his interest and support for teaching and clinical issues and considered him “a very thoughtful leader.”

Lee Witters, a Geisel professor of biochemistry and a medical doctor, characterized his long-time colleague as “an ideal person to be the interim dean while we’re looking for a permanent dean.”

Spending cuts by the National Institutes of Health have put financial pressure on the nation’s medical schools. At Dartmouth, NIH awards slipped to $51.8 million in fiscal year 2014, after remaining in a range from $80.4 million to $84.3 million in each of the four preceding years, according to the NIH’s research portfolio online reporting tools website. That site does not identify which college awards went to the medical school.

But Compton was identified by the college as the recipient of a 2013 NIH Method to Extend Research in Time award that recognized “superior competence and outstanding productivity during (his) previous research endeavors.” The award, from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, provided Compton’s investigation into chromosome instability in dividing cancer cells with five years of funding and the possibility of a three to five year extension.

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.