Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Harvard Medical School Embraces the 21st Century

In the movie Casablanca, just before accepting a bribe from the croupier at Rick’s casino, Captain Renault (Claude Rains) says, “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

This great scene captures a widespread view of organizational ethics – pious platitudes at best, but more often hypocrisy and outright lying. Academic institutions are not immune to this taint.

Corporations often say things like “our people are our greatest asset.” But words are cheap. Bureaucratic structures, like Harvard Medical School’s new Criteria for Appointment and Promotion, show what an organization truly values.

As a member of the faculty who had absolutely nothing to do with developing them, I read the new criteria with pleasure and pride. The introduction describes them as “a flexible structure which provides a ‘menu’ of activities, allowing assembly of a profile that reflects the unique combination of activities and accomplishments of each faculty member…recogniz[ing] the broad range of faculty activities that contribute to the academic mission including administrative leadership and service to the community.”

The criteria define three areas of excellence – “teaching and educational leadership,” “clinical expertise and innovation,” and “investigation.” All require scholarship. “Scholarship,” however, is defined much more broadly than in the past “to include not only peer-reviewed publications but also educational materials, policy statements, assessment tools, and guidelines for patients care…in print or alternative media.” "Teaching" is defined broadly as well, to include teaching peers, academic administration, simulation programs, and web-based training.

If the new criteria are applied in the open minded spirit in which they are written, Harvard Medical School will have taken a big step into the 21st century.

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