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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    President Kenny Discusses BRC Report

    On February 21, 2007, President Shirley Strum Kenny held a meeting with the Health Science Center focused on the recent evaluation of the SBU Medical Center by the Blue Ribbon Commission.’ The following is an account of the event from the perspective of one undergraduate student.

    ‘Why is she always late to these meetings?’ grumbled one well respected MD to another. The lecture hall at the Health Sciences Center (HSC) was filled with doctors and professors alike, awaiting the arrival of their boss, our school president, Shirley Strum Kenny. The doctors looked out of place, sitting in their white overcoats, checking their Blackberries, chatting away, staring at the clock, counting down the minutes before they could go back to their normal duties. And then she arrived. Like a room full of freshmen students gossiping about their teacher, Presidents Kenny’s arrival brought the room to an awkward silence. She waltzed into the room, smiling like a politician, mingled with a few doctors and meandered over to the podium.

    The meeting was the first opportunity for the medical school faculty to speak in person with the President about the Blue Ribbon Commissions’ report on SBU Hospital’s daily operations. While the report cleared the hospital of negligence in three highly publicized pediatric cases, the commission highlighted ‘opaque’ relations between the governing leadership and the Medical Center faculty.

    The report concluded that ‘overall, morale is suffering. There is a common feeling that opinions differing from those of the University leadership are not welcome, and that voicing different ideas, much less opposition, can result in retaliation ranging from removal from position to demotion or firing’hellip;in the absence of candor and effective two-way communication, perceptions, right or wrong, become the reality.’

    President Kenny, age 72, flanked by her new right hand man, Steve Strongwater, cleared her throat and then cleared her name in her first few sentences. ‘First off, I must discuss a certain newspaper’s (‘Newsday’) most recent article.’ In an article written two days before, Newsday alleged that President Kenny had not properly disclosed a payment by SBU of $200,000 to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s members. The article brought up the issue of whether an independent study could truly be independent or without bias when the members were being paid by the school it was to investigate.

    Kenny was quick to respond, ‘They were paid, that’s the way it works. It was enormously important that we did not know them (the BRC members), and we didn’t, and that’s that.” She appeared relieved and noticeably satisfied that the report had cleared the hospital of any malpractice. She told the audience that the report represented a ‘shining’ commendation of the hospital, and congratulated the faculty.

    Kenny noted that this was ‘the first time in a decade that Stony Brook will have a decent budget.’ She plans on hiring 72 new faculty members in the next two years. One interesting fact the president disclosed was the amount it costs to pay the University’s utility bill: $42 million a year.

    When the floor was opened up for the faculty to ask questions, each question was met with a response that lacked any informative value. President Kenny suddenly morphed into the White House press secretary. Questions such as how she planned to distribute money to the medical school were answered, ‘I don’t have that kind of information in front of me,’ or ‘I’m not the right person to ask about that. You’d have to ask ‘Dan,’ but he’s not here.’ Some questions were turned over to Steve Strongwater, MD, formerly the Director of Clinical Operations at the University of Connecticut Health Center, who began working for SBU in January. Strongwater, hand picked by President Kenny, was equally adept in the art of evasion.

    The sentiments of the Blue Ribbon Commission evaluators concerning opaqueness of the administration, that SBU leadership tries to side-step the issue at hand that makes one feel they must be hiding something, were apparently correct.

    One faculty member from the back of the room asked the President what she was going to do about the issue of ‘low morale [amongst faculty and staff].’ The doctor also asked the President to respond to the BRC finding that there is a fear among the medical faculty to even suggest disapproval over leadership. President Kenny responded, ‘Well, my email is always open.’ She went on to say that it was meetings such as these that presented the faculty with the opportunity to give advice and input. She claimed that she would be open to listen to any advice from the faculty.

    As for advice from the Blue Ribbon Commission; only one of the BRC’s strongest recommendations – to hire a Vice President in charge of Medical Affairs in order to take the load off President Kenny’s already full plate – is presently being considered. President Kenny announced that she will first hire a company to lay out five models outlining how to hire a vice president, and then will she begin the search.

    The report recommended that the school ‘abandon the independent pediatric cardiac surgery program at this time, and consider its future establishment as a referential- relationship.’ President Kenny disagreed and the program will remain intact. The report recommended that a University Medical Center advisory board should be created with the function of advising the governing body. This recommendation was also disregarded.

    President Kenny, in her 12 years at SBU, has earned the authority to make all crucial executive decisions. ‘Newsday’ recently published an article chronicling her tenure at SBU titled, ‘A Profile in Power.’ The article was the Sunday cover story. The newspaper has developed a strange fascination with the woman whom they labeled as ‘one of the most powerful people on Long Island.’

    Shirley Strum Kenny has been credited for the growth of SBU, both physically and academically, and it is well understood that she is a shrewd, forward thinking, highly successful president. While some might question her decision-making process, President Kenny would probably disagree. And her opinion, if not the only one that matters, clearly matters most of all.

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