Departing dean of KU medical school to receive $419,000 in severance pay

Barbara Atkinson, recently retired leader of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, has been placed on administrative leave and no longer will deal with day-to day university-related decisions under a severance agreement that will pay her more than $419,000.

“There is nothing unusual about this agreement,” Tim Caboni, KU vice chancellor for public affairs, said Wednesday. Negotiations over the separation contract between Atkinson and KU were completed last week, he said.

Atkinson, who had served as executive vice chancellor and executive dean of the medical school, announced in November that she was stepping down as dean and keeping the vice chancellor post another two years. Earlier this month, she announced she was giving up the executive chancellor post earlier than planned and retiring this summer.

KU Medical Center spokeswoman C.J. Janovy said Atkinson has not been on campus for the past couple of weeks and is no longer maintaining a campus office.

“The plaques (on her office wall) are gone,” she said.

“This was her choice,” Caboni said, referring to the final separation agreement. “In some ways this is a cost saving to the university.”

Atkinson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Under the agreement, the university will not pay any benefits to Atkinson. She will receive her normal $543,614 annual salary through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

After she leaves, she will receive a lump-sum payment of $419,253, which represents what would have been her salary through April 9, 2013, one year after the day the university announced she was stepping down. That money will come from privately raised funds, Caboni said.

He said Atkinson opted to take the severance payment rather than a one-year sabbatical, which typically would last a full academic year through May.

Although on administrative leave, Atkinson, who had been with the medical school since 2000, has agreed to be available to the university for consulting up to 10 hours a month through April 2013.

“It is not unusual for folks who serve their institutions as long and as well as she has to receive a sabbatical at the end of her service,” Caboni said. “Barbara decided to retire. When she made that decision, having her not involved in the day to day of the university makes good sense, and allows us to carry on with finding the next EVC (executive vice chancellor).”

In the meantime, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little named Steven Stites, the chair of internal medicine at the medical school, to serve as acting executive vice chancellor and acting executive dean.

Atkinson’s final column April 17 in a newsletter emailed periodically to the KU Medical Center community acknowledged that her announcement to retire sooner than planned may have come as a surprise.

“However, I have come to believe that it really was the best time to pass the torch to new leadership,” she wrote.

Atkinson said work on the medical center’s application to the National Cancer Institute to become a designated cancer center had been completed.

“When it comes to achieving what has been the university’s No. 1 research priority since 2005, there is nothing left to do but wait for word from the NCI, which could come any time between May and September,” she wrote. “Regardless of whether we receive the designation, our NCI effort has galvanized support for our missions among so many people across the region and state.”