Danny Jacobs' OHSU reappointment reveals deep division among leadership

Some people are angry about Danny Jacobs' contract extension with OHSU, but others are supportive.

Danny Jacobs' OHSU reappointment reveals deep division among leadership

The School of Medicine conducted an informal survey three weeks before the OHSU Board of Directors voted to extend the term of Dr. Danny Jacobs as president on April 19.

When asked if Jacobs' contract, which expired in 2024 was renewed, 26 out of 27 chairs from the clinical and basic sciences responded "no". This wasn't their first time expressing dissatisfaction. These leaders represent 2,900 faculty, or 86% of the entire faculty on campus. Last year, the same group voted 'no-confidence' by a margin of 21 to 6.

A OHSU spokesperson confirmed that the School of Medicine referendums reflect frustration over what leaders interviewed by The Business Journal see as Jacobs's lack of vision, communication, and lack of engagement on campus and among donors.

Jacobs' supporters defended Jacobs in interviews with The Business Journal. They said that he had shaken up the hierarchy on campus. This can be hard for people to accept.

Susan Bakewell Sachs, dean of OHSU School of Nursing, said, 'Power sharing will be the future of every organization. Finding the balance of how to do this equitably, respectfully, while addressing historical gender and cultural issues, has been neglected for a very long time. Danny's vision is one I personally and professional support. He's also battling against historical power differences. This is the core of our problem.

Jacobs' refusal to be interviewed by this article, and the lack of support from all departments, coincides with a critical moment for the institution. OHSU employs over 19,000 people at its hospitals, research facilities, and schools of nursing, dentistry and medicine. It is now emerging from the financial and staff crunch caused by Covid-19, which has affected all academic health centers and health systems. Although its balance sheet is stronger, it still faces financial challenges. It's also implementing recommendations made by a damning report on campus culture from two years ago.

Jacobs will be able to remain as president until July 1, 2026, thanks to the board's decision. Jacobs and his board will have to deal with the discontent of some leaders at the School of Medicine in the coming months.

The Business Journal interviewed five senior leaders at the School of Medicine in the last week. This school is responsible for most of the research grants received by the university. The leaders asked not to be identified in order to speak honestly. Jacobs, according to several, is charming and likable, but hasn't taken a bold step forward, isn’t visible on campus, and doesn’t send out community-wide communication.

One person said, 'It is hard to tell whether he cares about any of our traditional missions'. It just doesn't seem to come across. This is a serious problem. We need a visionary leader around whom we can all rally.

Another said, 'He has been the absentee President'. "What I quickly learned was that if you discuss something important with Danny, he will only tell you what you are looking for, then it disappears into vapor, and you don't hear from him ever again."

Many leaders have said that Jacobs will not make difficult decisions, but instead micromanage minor issues. Jacobs has also centralized many functions which were previously handled by various units across campus. This includes decisions about compensation.

Morale is a problem, according to several School of Medicine leaders.

One employee said, "I've witnessed a constant disruption in the functioning of the organization and a gradual erosion of staff and faculty morale." "We are starting to see a greater exodus away from the university. This is to my great dismay."

A second bone of contention is the Board Chair Wayne Monfries handling of Jacobs’ reappointment, which extended Jacobs’ contract by an additional two-years. The reappointment was on the agenda a few days before the quarterly board meeting in April. The discussion of the contract came at a board meeting that lasted two hours and lasted about 13 minutes.

Two of the board's six members voted against it, and one said the process was rushed.

Some School of Medicine leaders expressed their dismay in interviews with the Business Journal when Monfries ignored their input and rammed through the resolution.

A senior leader said, 'The board was aware that the faculty were frustrated with his leadership. They also knew that the institution was heading in the wrong directions and that faculty were exploring other opportunities.' The board was informed directly of this, and it is the fact that they ramrodded through a contract extension which has caused a lot of unhappiness.

Another said: "I was appalled by the process. I was concerned by the lack of a public discussion, especially for a publicly-owned corporation.

Monfries said that he disagrees with the perception of a rushed process. He stated that he had discussed Jacobs’ performance with senior OHSU leadership and other members, and he also took into account the School of Medicine chair's critiques. He praised Jacobs in a phone interview on Monday for leading OHSU during the pandemic, and for 'taking a bull by the horns' to lead a cultural change.

Jacobs was also praised for his fiscal management.

Monfries stated that he returned Monfries to financial stability faster than other academic health centers or health systems in the United States. This is not the right time to portray leadership as insecure.

Monfries, when asked about the complaints made against Jacobs, said that Jacobs "has done a great job driving change and change is difficult."

Monfries stated that the negativity is caused by those who have been told no after being told yes for 20 years. "Many people in senior positions didn't like what they saw and heard no for budget items that were once an easy yes," Monfries said.

Bakewell-Sachs of School of Nursing echoed this sentiment.

She said, "I think he is focused on people and missions and sees the need for a rebalancing to strengthen the organisation." "Change can be a threat to some people."

Deborah Messecar is the senior associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Nursing. She also praised Jacobs' support during a recent accreditation and called him a'real advocate for fairness. They have been working to improve pay equality, and he has done more in this regard for the School of Nursing than anyone else since I was there.

Jacobs was praised by some for enlisting the former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder's firm to examine campus culture in depth, including complaints about harassment and discrimination. The report, which had not been redacted, was then made public.

One nursing faculty member commented, 'That's a lot courage'. It was a really in-depth and thorough process. I felt that for the first time, we were actually responding to a problem instead of just reacting.

Jacobs also hired people from color for key positions including a provost, chief people officer and other senior roles, she said.

Jill Eiland is the interim director of OHSU Foundation and she accompanies her husband to about six or seven events each month, including coffees, lunches, dinners with donors, etc.

Eiland stated that he was in the habit of calling and sending out thank you letters to all donors, big and small. 'I strongly believe he is the right leader for OHSU in this moment.'

The foundation has raised $130 to $150 million annually since 2015, when the Knight Cancer Challenge, which was worth $1 billion, ended. Jacobs, according to Eiland, supports the addition of 40 new employees over the next few years in order for Jacobs' foundation to become "a $200 million fundraising machine."

The OHSU board will not be able to vote on Jacobs' new contract. Jacobs' salary is currently $1.3 million. The resolution allows Monfries, the OHSU board, to negotiate with Jacobs, who is now 68, and "adjust salary for market."