U of M psychiatry chief steps down amid criticism

Dr. Charles Schulz
Dr. Charles Schulz
Courtesy University of Minnesota

The head of the University of Minnesota's Department of Psychiatry is stepping down following harsh criticism over the way the department treats human subjects of its research.

Dr. Charles Schulz, who led the department for 16 years, will remain on the faculty and keep his position as executive medical director, according to a university announcement this morning. In a statement, university officials said the move "will allow him to focus his time more exclusively on patient care."

The decision comes after a state legislative audit last month rebuked the university — and the psychiatry department in particular — for its treatment of Dan Markingson, a mentally ill man who committed suicide during a U of M drug trial in 2004. An external review in February also criticized the university for not doing enough now to protect vulnerable patients such as Markingson.

Schulz led the department during the periods covered in both reports.

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Dr. Brooks Jackson, dean of the medical school, declined to speak to reporters, but forwarded a written statement, spokesperson Brian Lucas said.

"Dr. Schulz's decision was completely his own," Jackson wrote. "He requested this move to clear the way for new leadership, and to allow him to focus more on clinical care. He will remain a valued member of our faculty, working primarily with patients with schizophrenia."

In the U of M's announcement, Schulz wrote that leading the department has been a "privilege."

"There is a great deal of work still to be done," he wrote, "and I look forward to supporting the new department head as we all work together to bring the best possible care to the patients we serve."

The university is beginning a national search for a replacement. Until a successor is found, the medical school's senior associate dean, Dr. Mark Paller, will serve as interim chief of the department.

Lucas said the school hopes to have a new department head in six to nine months.

In his statement, Jackson wrote, "Obviously this has been a challenging time for the department of psychiatry and for our research enterprise as a whole. We are committed to moving forward in a way that will strengthen trust in our clinical care and research enterprises."

Schulz's move was not necessarily a surprise as the two reviews have prompted expressions of serious concern among some state lawmakers.

At last month's legislative hearing on the legislative audit, state Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, told U of M President Eric Kaler, "You can't have an ethical program unless you have ethical people ... people willing to look at themselves critically and admit their mistakes."

Kaler responded that he was open to personnel changes if they were necessary.

On Wednesday, the university announced a team to lay out a plan on how to carry out dozens of reforms recommended in the February review. Kaler says he expects the plan by May 15.