University of Alberta medical dean steps down

(Edmonton) University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera announced today the resignation of Philip Baker, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, from his position, effective immediately.

“On the request of the provost, and recognizing that it was in the best interests of all parties involved, Philip Baker is resigning as dean, and I have accepted his resignation,” Samarasekera said.

There have been allegations of plagiarism directed at Baker after parts of a speech he gave to honour the 2011 graduating class of medicine and dentistry students was said to have come from a speech given by surgeon Atul Gawande at Stanford University in 2010.

In a statement released Friday, Baker wrote that it was never his intention to detract from the accomplishments of the graduating class. “My hope is that the university and the faculty will be able to put this unfortunate incident behind them, and that this will bring closure for the university, the faculty and my family.”

Baker assumed the position of dean on Sept. 1, 2009, and also served as a professor, a practising obstetrician and renowned researcher of pregnancy complications. He will retain his faculty position following a brief administrative leave, with assignments consistent with his academic expertise.

“We have been careful, thoughtful and deliberate in reaching this conclusion, and our board of governors has approved it,” Samarasekera said.

When asked about the university’s reputation going forward, Samarasekera said the main point to remember is that the university responded appropriately.

“What I'm most pleased about is that the reputation of the university is determined largely by how it handles crisis,” she said. “We are a big and complex institution and I'm very proud of the way this situation has been managed—quickly, fairly, expeditiously.

“Our reputation is about academic integrity, fairness, thoroughness.”

While the search for a permanent replacement for Baker takes place, Samarasekera says Verna Yiu, currently vice-dean of faculty affairs in the faculty, will serve as interim dean.

“My sincerest hope is that we can proceed with focusing on the business of the university—teaching, research and service for the public good,” said Samarasekera. “I would like to extend my thanks to Verna Yiu, vice-dean of faculty affairs in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, for agreeing to serve as interim dean. She is a capable leader in her own right; the faculty is in good hands."

Samarasekera cited confidentiality issues around commenting on the status of the review of the allegations against Baker, saying that the process is ongoing and that, when there is information that can be shared, it will be shared with the university community.