Review slams head of Iowa radiology department

Fajardo described as 'weak and ineffective' advocate, contributing to poor department morale

Laurie Fajardo
Laurie Fajardo

Already stung by months of negative publicity, the University of Iowa Department of Radiology is also struggling with dismal faculty morale, communication problems, a failure to fill key jobs and a leader widely regarded as ineffective, according to a blistering departmental review obtained by The Associated Press.

Faculty members are in "nearly uniform agreement" that Department Chair Laurie Fajardo, an expert in breast imaging who has led the department since 2003, is to blame for problems ranging from a declining focus on academic work to an inability to recruit and hire employees, according to the final report shared Friday afternoon after a six-month review process.

"Dr. Fajardo is widely considered a weak and ineffective advocate for the Department, an uninvolved mentor, and a poor recruiter," concluded the review committee, which was convened by the College of Medicine. "This has contributed to the low morale that appears to affect most faculty members including all ranks and tracks. Beyond low morale, the faculty members believe they are overworked, underappreciated, and undercompensated. Recruitment is a grave concern, as is appropriate succession planning. Communication at all levels, but mainly from the leadership to the ranks remains problematic."

Fajardo, who did not return email or phone messages seeking comment, said in the report she believes the department is making progress and is healthy. But she also acknowledged that many challenges remain, including hiring key faculty in specific areas, planning to replace professors who will retire and maintaining competitive salaries in a tough financial climate.

Fajardo is among the most highly paid university employees, earning an annual salary of $501,000.

The report credited Fajardo with making improvements in the years after she was hired but said the department has since "struggled with leadership and personnel issues, ongoing problems with communication, financial concerns, and flagging morale."

The most public problem for Fajardo and the department has been the case of radiology professor Malik Juweid, who has been on paid leave since January for alleged disruptive behavior. Juweid has acknowledged sending emails to colleagues in frustration, accusing them of being anti-Arab and threatening to sue, but he denies physically threatening anyone. He argues his suspension was retaliation for highly publicized allegations of wrongdoing he's made against colleagues over the last year.

University disciplinary proceedings that could lead to Juweid's termination have been delayed while he sues several university officials, including Fajardo, for alleged discrimination and retaliation. Among other things, the Jordan-born doctor claims Fajardo called him "an academic terrorist," a remark she has said was taken out of context.

A recently departed faculty member, John Chaloupka, said in a legal affidavit that Fajardo made the terrorist remark to him, repeatedly called a Pakistani doctor "Osama bin Laden" and made other disparaging remarks about foreign-born doctors. She has denied those claims; an internal university investigation found derogatory comments were likely made but did not amount to discrimination against Juweid.

Juweid's attorney, Rockne Cole, said he continues his own "fact-finding process" through the litigation but that the report appears to bolster his client's claims.

"The report appears to confirm or be consistent with Malik's concerns that he's identified for well over 12 months," Cole said. "We contend in the lawsuit that is one of the reasons why he was placed upon administrative leave because of concerns about her leadership."

The department, which has 51 full- and part-time faculty members, has a history that dates back to the installation of the first x-ray machine at the university hospital in 1898. Today, its faculty members treat patients, train medical students and conduct research in areas ranging from ultrasound technology to nuclear medicine.

The review committee, which included doctors from the University of Minnesota and Ohio State as well as Iowa, found bright spots: a nationally recognized faculty whose members excel at teaching, a solid training program for medical residents, strong cancer research that draws federal grant funding and state-of-the-art medical equipment.

But faculty members told reviewers they were short-staffed in several areas and had less time for scholarly pursuits than they had been promised when they were hired. Many mid-level faculty members felt it would be hard for them to get promoted to full professor because of time limitations on academic work, which appears to be less of a focus for the department, the report said.

"They feel this reflects the interests and priorities of Dr. Fajardo, who they believe does not project an image of scholarly inquiry," the report said.

Faculty members said they faced roadblocks or got no response from the administration when they requested permission to hire employees and complained that confusion surrounded the status of several recruitments, the report said. One key job, the department's vice chair for research, has long been vacant after an administrator's departure, which has had a "negative effect" and forced younger researchers to make their own connections and mentoring relationships.

Faculty complained that many key changes were not being implemented or were done so only in advance of the review and said they were frustrated with a lack of internal support for the department.The report concluded: "Leadership must be stronger in advocating for the Department and restoring an atmosphere of scholarship. Leadership must work toward restoring faculty morale. This is a multi-faceted problem, but needs to be squarely addressed."

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