University of Iowa's Robillard to resign as top medical official; reasons unclear

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.

UPDATE: From Charis-Carlson's report in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on October 1:

Robillard said he had not yet made up his mind about retirement options in February when the UI Health Care’s leadership structure was reorganized. After conversations with Harreld and other UIHC leaders, Robillard said he decided a few weeks ago that he had reached the point in his career in which he was no longer certain he could take on any new five- or six-year projects and see them through to completion.

“I would have continued doing this forever,” Robillard said, “but there is a reality of life that you have to realize.”

Robillard said he never considered dividing his multiple responsibilities and stepping down from only a few of them.

"If you do that, you do that for yourself,” Robillard said. “I was not looking to design a new job for me. When you are working here, you are working for the faculty and staff. … It’s either 100 miles an hour or none.”

From Vanessa Miller's story for the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“I think when you want to recruit good leaders, you try to bring them to an institution that is doing fine — where there is progress and there is excitement and there is optimism about the future,” [Robillard] said. “And that’s how I feel about this place.”

Plus, Robillard said, “I will be 73.”

“Even if I have a lot of energy, it’s tough to start projects that take four, five years to do,” he said.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Friday told The Gazette he’s known about Robillard’s plans to step down but tried to persuade him to stick around longer.

“I’ve asked him over and over again just to stay — we’d love to have him stay another five years,” Rastetter said. “But he’s at the point in his life where he wants to do this.” [...]

Robillard stood by his role in the Harreld hire and in his belief that Harreld was and continues to be the right person for the job.

“I felt that we picked the best person to be president of the university,” Robillard said Friday. “I believed it at that time. I still believe it. And time will show it’s right. I don’t care if people disagree with this. That’s the way I felt. That’s the way I still feel today.”

He said Harreld is instituting new ways of looking at higher education — and how to support higher education — that is “quite exciting.” But he acknowledged the critics’ concerns and said they’re healthy for a vibrant academic campus.

“There will always be a small group of people who will object,” he said. “But we need these people. Honestly, I respect these people. We need them. Because they keep your feet to the fire. And they have the right questions. I have no problem with that.”

UI vice president for medical affairs to step down from leadership positions
The University of Iowa today announced that Jean E. Robillard, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, plans to step down from his leadership role overseeing UI Health Care—which comprises the Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and University of Iowa Physicians. A pediatric nephrologist by training, Robillard 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.

“The opportunity to lead UI Health Care has been the absolute high point of my career,” Robillard says. “It is truly an honor and privilege to work with so many superbly talented and committed individuals who have helped make our academic medical center one of the best in the country today. I am proud of what we have achieved together and look forward to the bright future that is ahead for this great organization.”

Robillard first became the dean of the Carver College of Medicine in 2003 and was named vice president for medical affairs in 2007 with a mandate to integrate the college, the hospitals and clinics system, and the faculty practice plan into a more responsive and unified academic medical center. In the decade since, UI Health Care has enjoyed unprecedented growth and earned a strong national reputation. Robillard also served as the university’s interim president following the retirement of Sally Mason in 2015.

Robillard is widely credited with creating an environment that has allowed the many talented individuals at every level of UI Health Care to succeed.

“From the distinguished biomedical investigators pioneering new discoveries, to the creative educators setting new standards of excellence in preparing the next generation of clinicians and scientists, to the world-class health care providers caring for patients, UI Health Care has, quite simply, thrived under Jean’s leadership,” says University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld. “He leaves a strong legacy that will have a lasting impact on the institution and on the health care landscape of this state for generations to come.”

Under Robillard’s leadership, UI Health Care has achieved a long list of accomplishments, setting the stage for continued success:

• The establishment of an ultramodern biomedical research facility, the 256,000-square-foot Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, which fosters high-risk, high-reward science. Opened in 2014, PBDB is home to a number of key research programs, including the newly created Iowa Neuroscience Institute, which promises to establish Iowa as a leading center for excellence in the neurosciences.
• A major expansion of the clinical enterprise, including a major ambulatory care clinic in neighboring Coralville’s Iowa River Landing development, the establishment of several UI QuickCare walk-in clinic sites located throughout the community, and a long-term master plan for the main hospital campus’ future
• Development of the new UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which is scheduled to open to patients in December 2016 and envisioned as a kid-friendly, state-of-the-art children’s hospital at the heart of a comprehensive children’s health system for Iowa
• Creation of the UI Health Alliance, a partnership among four of Iowa’s premier health care organizations, comprising more than 3,000 providers and 18 hospitals throughout the state
• Record fundraising for the hospital and the college, surpassing the goal set for the University of Iowa’s current “For Iowa. Forever More.” campaign, with more than $750 million raised
• An innovative $100 million investment in the college’s research enterprise to recruit new faculty and support existing faculty in advancing vital research programs, with a special focus on new and emerging fields

Robillard is the immediate past chair of the Association of Academic Health Centers Board of Directors. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and, in 2006, served as chair of the board of directors for the American Board of Pediatrics.

  • Harreld can now select who leads UIHC

    Interesting that this announcement comes shortly after Harreld reorganizes HR and makes them report directly to him.

    "UI President Bruce Harreld this week introduced Cheryl Reardon as the new chief human resources officer and associate vice president. She is to direct improvement in the central human resources structure by, for starters, positioning it as an independent organization reporting directly to the office of the UI president."

    What are Bruce Rastetter's priorities when it comes to health care? Privatization?

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