Cleveland Clinic and CWRU: Big break or callous snub?

On June 1, 2013, President Barbara R. Snyder delivered some big news to the Case Western Reserve University community when she unveiled a major plan to collaborate with the Cleveland Clinic to build an $80 million medical school facility on the Clinic’s campus. The following day, the same news was reported in The Plain Dealer.

While both CWRU President Barbara Snyder and Cleveland Clinic President Toby M. Cosgrove gleefully expressed excitement over the project, no one seemed to wonder, at least publicly, what part CWRU’s primary affiliate, University Hospitals (UH), played in it. It turns out, none.

UH leadership was under the impression that CWRU would build its new medical school facility on the old Mt. Sinai campus, located on East 105th St. The UH leaders only learned of the new project when it was already signed, sealed and delivered—in other words, on the same day as the rest of us.

Was this a cold move on CWRU’s part? Maybe. But there is no doubt that the university scored a great deal by partnering with one of the best-ranked medical institutions in the world. After all, the Clinic is located right next to CWRU’s campus—why not take advantage of its proximity and, perhaps more importantly, its brand?

The issue is not so much about changing the everyday routines of CWRU medical students; UH has yet to report any drastic changes in the way it will operate. UH continues to be considered the CWRU School of Medicine’s primary hospital affiliate, as it has been since 1992. In practice, this means that CWRU and UH combine their medical research operations.

Even after learning of the deal between the Clinic and CWRU, UH leadership did not express plans to discontinue or change the medical education of graduate and undergraduate students it has provided in the past. Both Snyder and Cosgrove assured that the partnership will only “complement” the relationships CWRU and the Clinic have with other institutions, including UH.

The deal does not mean that UH will never recover from the apparent snub, either. UH has obviously established its position as a highly-ranked, widely respected institution and a significant partner of CWRU. The real problem lies in the approach CWRU leverages with its associates. The way the university handled the collaboration deal with the Clinic could backfire in the future.

The school is taking ambitious steps towards significant and fast expansion while trying to establish a reputation as a high-level research institution, which admittedly is a position the university deserves. But what kind of message is the university sending to the community by making these moves? How many eggs does the university have to break in order to make an omelet?

As with housing, it seems that CWRU has an issue with long-term planning. The university wants to expand and become a more significant part of the Cleveland community—this is very clear. It also is completely understandable and reasonable.

CWRU has the resources, and its faculty, staff and students alike have the willingness to help the university become the institution it wants to be. But it’s not certain whether making bold moves without consulting other parties who will also be affected by the changes will bear fruit in the long term.

The bottom line is this: sidestepping UH isn’t just a courtesy issue. CWRU could possibly be in danger of becoming an institution that takes everything that makes it better and sucks the life out of it. The university should not make a habit out of making deals that at the end of the day snub community partners in favor of pursuing greener pastures.

The university’s administrators do not seem to worry about the negative image public deals, such as this one, create for the university; otherwise, they would not have left UH hanging like they did. If the university continues making moves like this, its days as the friendly neighborhood institution of University Circle may soon be over.

Its actions are starting to resemble those of a big corporation. It’s up to each of us to decide whether it is bothersome or whether the administration is in the right: risk-taking produces results and can eventually make CWRU the major player that in many aspects it deserves to be. Because there is no denying that when it comes to the deal with the Clinic, CWRU really came out as the real winner in the situation—arrogant or otherwise.

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