WHO RUNS OUM?
Who is the Chancellery?
Students and faculty would likely agree that OUM is not a typical medical school: Didactic instruction is online, the average student is around 40 years of age, the faculty is diverse from around the world, and the administrative hierarchy is minimal.
When Ms. Taffy Gould founded OUM in 2002, she wanted a lean operation, to keep costs down and thusly tuition fees for students of the private university. As Chairman of the OUM Council, Ms. Gould has since 2012 entrusted the management of the University to the Steering Committee, a group of senior faculty leaders and administrators. Since 2015, the day-to-day decision-making rests with the Chancellery—a team of two medical educators to oversee the academic side of the University and an administrator to oversee the business side.
“Finding a single talented person with the academic and leadership experience and business acumen for a non-traditional university located in Samoa proved quite difficult,” she says. “So, we have a Samoan clinician who is a proven leader, a solid academic and researcher with decades of experience in medical education at top US medical schools, and an administrator with decades of experience in medical school and university administration.”
That troika would be (in order) Dr. Viali Lameko, Vice Chancellor; Professor Randell Brown, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer; and Chris Dudley, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Administration & Student Affairs.
“We have functioned as a team of equals over the past five years, meeting at least weekly to discuss any outstanding issues facing the University as well as opportunities that may exist,” says Dr. Lameko, who was previously Director of Clinical Education for OUM before going to the same position at the National University of Samoa in 2012 and then returning to OUM as Vice Chancellor in 2015.
Dr. Lameko is a respected internist at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Apia, precepting OUM students who are there completing Internal Medicine rotations. He is a past president of the Samoa Medical Association, among other accomplishments, and holds the chiefly title of Toleafoa for his village.
“Frankly, I was skeptical about how the three of us would get along at the beginning,” says Professor Brown. “We have come from such diverse backgrounds, and medical schools are famously highly political in nature.”
Professor Brown would know. He joined OUM in 2012 to teach Biochemistry, after serving in several roles at such prestigious institutions as the Penn State College of Medicine and the University of California at San Francisco. After two years at OUM, Dr. Brown was named Associate Dean and was promoted to Deputy Vice Chancellor in 2015.
“Yes, I had witnessed those political pitfalls at universities and medical schools and felt very strongly that we must avoid them to be successful,” says Dudley, who by virtue of his previous experience in the news media emerged as the spokesperson for the Chancellery.
Dudley joined OUM in 2002 as a marketing and communications consultant, after having served as Assistant Vice President for Medical Communications at the University of Miami School of Medicine and as Executive Assistant to the University President. During his time at OUM, he assumed responsibility for several administrative functions, including accreditation.
“Getting and keeping accreditation is a big deal,” says Dr. Lameko. “Accreditation by such a well-respected agency as PAASCU tells the world that OUM’s innovative approach is acceptable in a very traditional field.”
The accreditation test
The renewal of OUM’s accreditation in 2015 was the new Chancellery’s first test. As OUM had several leaders since it was first accredited in 2010, PAASCU had to be convinced that the new management team could guide OUM to stability and accomplishment.
“It worked,” said Professor Brown. “We were able to demonstrate to PAASCU that we had a solid plan for OUM’s success and could execute it. Soon afterwards, we traveled to the Philippines to strengthen our relationship with PAASCU and leaders of Philippine medical schools and have been so engaged ever since.”
Indeed, one of the “best features” cited by PAASCU in its 2020 report for the University was “the dynamic OUM administrative organization with the appointment of a new leadership team.” Following site visits this past March, PAASCU informed OUM in May that the University is re-accredited through 2025.
During its weekly meetings, the Chancellery discusses an array of issues and makes many operational decisions, while saving major decisions for input and consultation with the larger Steering Committee. This year, there have been two items of focus: completing accreditation and keeping the University going during COVID-19.
“The closing of Samoa’s borders due to COVID has been a major stressor,” says Dr. Lameko. “So many students were planning on doing their clinical rotations here. They had to be re-scheduled. Others were ‘stranded’ here, and we had to make sure they were able to continue with their education. We worked with the deans to keep our clinical students engaged in rotations in their countries, and the Chancellery also had to make decisions about those students approaching graduation and still needing to meet the Samoa rotation requirement.”
The Chancellery approved several applications from students who had otherwise completed their clinical clerkships and research project but needed to meet that Samoa requirement. Those students will write a research paper on a Samoan health topic and still must complete all 72 weeks of clinical clerkships.
The Chancellery also reviews particularly tough cases from the Student Affairs Committee, to ensure that all University protocols have been met, especially if there is an appeal.
A continuing focus of the Chancellery is strategic planning. The Steering Committee, comprised of University leaders, recently held its second strategic planning exercise of 2020. With that input, the Chancellery is putting the finishing touches on the University’s strategic planning document for the next five years.
“It’s interesting how we come from very different perspectives and have rigorous discussions on many issues and decisions facing the Chancellery, but in the end we always agree,” says Professor Brown.
Evolution of the Chancellery
Beginning in 2021, the Chancellery will be changing. Last year, Dudley informed the Chancellery and Ms. Gould that he would be transitioning out of his OUM duties over a multi-year period. Most of those duties will transition to others throughout 2021.
Beginning in January 2021, Professor Brown will assume facilitation of such University meetings as the fortnightly Steering Committee meetings and quarterly University-Wide Meetings.
Also next year, the Chancellery will look to add an additional Deputy Vice Chancellor position to be filled by an academic leader at the University.
“The University should be run by doctors and academics,” says Ms. Gould. “We have had wonderful success over the years and are looking forward to greater days ahead as we approach OUM’s 20th anniversary.”
Part Two of the Series, February 2021: The Steering Committee