Nostalgia & institutional memory

Nostalgia is a formidable foe to institutional history. The “good-old-days” is a powerful posture to overcome using records and archival materials. Counter narratives exist to all tales of “glory days,” but can sound like sour-grapes without supporting documents.

It is always interesting then to find such a document that gives one pause in understanding how the organization functioned and what was the institutional culture of the time.

We know that the present day Academic Health Center formed in 1970 after the reorganization of the Health Sciences by the Board of Regents based on an external review committee’s recommendations. It also was in part the result of several internal reviews and projections on the future needs of training, space, and planning. This internal review began in 1964 under the leadership of President Wilson.

But what were the internal organizational flaws that would contribute to such a review and necessitate an administrative change?

Written in 1977, the following list gives somewhat of a contemporary account of the institutional culture of the health sciences from the previous decade. Written by John Westerman, then director of the University Hospitals, the list was part of an evaluation of the office of the Vice President for Health Sciences. Westerman notes that the list is based on “a number of difficulties” presented to the Board of Regents and President Wilson by the College of Medical Sciences and the School of Dentistry in 1964.

1. Space problems — Little was constructed since the completion of Mayo Tower in 1954.

2. Planning — No health sciences plan existed. One piece of real estate was the object of the six units involved.

3. Planning Funds — No capital finance fund or even plans was in place.

4. Operating Funds — The units were underfunded for the manpower obligations and were becoming the have nots of academic health units — with all the implications of recruitment, retention, attraction of research funds, etc.

5. The clinical facilities were functionally obsolete in a highly competitive marketplace.

6. The units showed little evidence of cooperative efforts or even awareness of each others goals and programs.

7. The units displayed an uncommon talent for lobbying with central officers, regents and the legislatures on an individual or even programmatic basis.

8. There was little knowledge of the combined characteristics of the center and increasing demand to deal with the health sciences as a totality.

9. Public demand of the early ’60’s called for increased health manpower from each of the units.

10. There was no effective mechanism for administrative coordination of the units and providing an effective interface with the many university interrelationships.

Reading the evaluation you will notice that it does not contain the actual performance review. This document is merely a copy and was not annotated. However, it is interesting to see by what criteria the VP for Health Sciences was evaluated.