One of the most powerful figures at the University of Iowa over the past year and a half is stepping down as vice president of medical affairs and dean of the medical school. I enclose below this morning’s news release from the university, which did not explain Jean Robillard’s decision but said he “will remain on the faculty of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics. A search for his successor will commence immediately, with Robillard continuing as vice president and dean until a new leader is named.” Whether one or two people will be hired to replace him is not yet clear.
Robillard served as dean of the Carver College of Medicine for four years before becoming vice president for medical affairs in January 2007. As chair of the presidential search committee formed in February 2015 and as interim university president beginning last August, he played a central role in recruiting and eventually selecting the UI’s current President Bruce Harreld. Not only did Robillard lead the public search for Sally Mason’s successor, he attended secret meetings that were part of a parallel process and disbanded the search committee immediately after Harreld was named as a finalist over “significant faculty opposition.” He refused to meet with investigators from the American Association of University Professors, who later declared that the presidential search had been “manipulated to reach a foreordained result.” The handling of that search prompted the AAUP to sanction the University of Iowa this summer.
Although Robillard is 72 years old, his retirement–which a university spokesperson called “completely voluntary”–is surprising. Harreld told journalist Jeff Charis-Carlson last October that he did not plan high-level staff changes in the health care division: “‘I think that’s in very good hands,’ Harreld said of the leadership of Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president for medical affairs and a member of the presidential cabinet.” Soon after, Robillard helped orchestrate renaming the children’s hospital after alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, without public input. Jerre Stead was both a longtime business contact of Harreld’s and a co-chair of University of Iowa Health Care’s $500 million capital campaign beginning in 2011. He was an important figure in the behind-the-scenes events that led to Harreld’s hire.
In February of this year, the university reorganized its health care operations to allow Robillard to serve as medical school dean while continuing as VP for medical affairs. Harreld sanctioned the reshuffle, which the Iowa Board of Regents approved retroactively two weeks later, even though “Changes this high in the administrative level at one of Iowa’s public universities typically require approval from the Iowa Board of Regents,” Charis-Carlson reported at the time.
Building a “kid-friendly, state-of-the-art” children’s hospital has been a focus of Robillard’s work for years. That facility is set to open in December; cost overruns raised its price tag by some 25 percent over the budget the Board of Regents approved in 2012. Charis-Carlson reported in April on the controversy surrounding the multi-million-dollar contract to furnish the new hospital, which UI officials awarded without competitive bidding to a company with ties to an regent.
Last week, nurses and labor union members protested the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics over chronic under-staffing at the main hospital, despite rising occupancy rates.
I will update this post as needed. Any insights related to Robillard stepping down are welcome as comments in this thread or as confidential private messages (my e-mail is listed near the lower right corner of this page). UPDATE: Added comments from Robillard below.