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14 June 2002

Debas to Step Down

Haile Debas, one of UCSF’s most accomplished and adored leaders, announced Thursday that he will step down as dean of the School of Medicine, effective July 1, 2003.

“I have been dean since 1993 and next year will represent my tenth year on the job,” said Debas, who made the announcement during his annual State of the School of Medicine address. “I feel that this has been long enough and someone new with fresh ideas should take the helm. As you can see, the UCSF School of Medicine is in an excellent state and is undergoing the most significant growth in its history. The UCSF Medical Center is making a wonderful recovery, so this is a good time to step down and devote my time to my wife and family.”

Campus colleagues were quick to praise the teacher and administrator, who has served UCSF for 16 years as a professor, surgeon, scientist, department chair, dean, chancellor, and vice chancellor for medical affairs.

“His achievements are legion. He ranks among the most distinguished academic physicians in the world,” said Chancellor J. Michael Bishop in an email to the campus on Thursday. “He is a visionary individual who combines forceful leadership with warm collegiality. The School of Medicine and the campus have thrived under his guidance. He has set an example for us all through his deep commitment to the diverse missions of UCSF and his unflagging energy in the service of those missions.

“The prospect of having the companionship and counsel of Dean Debas played a large part in my own decision to accept the chancellorship four years ago,” said Bishop. “So I received the news that he intended to step down with great regret. But he has given deeply of himself: we could hardly ask for more. We can all take consolation from the fact that UCSF will continue to enjoy his leadership for yet another year. In that interim, the campus will conduct a diligent and national search for a successor who might be worthy of the remarkable legacy that Haile Debas will leave to us.”

“I’ve never worked with a leader who was so effective and beloved as Haile,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Regis Kelly. “He’s been a rock for us. He’s been a source of solidity and has been constantly upbeat through the worst of times. He’s been inspirational.”

Debas, a native of Asmara, Eritrea, came to UCSF from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1987 to chair the Department of Surgery, which under his leadership attained national recognition as one of the top academic surgery departments in the country.

He was appointed dean of the School of Medicine in 1993. In 1997, when then-Chancellor Joseph Martin left UCSF, Debas was pressed into higher service and became the campus’ seventh chancellor. He agreed to head the campus for one year, while continuing his duties as dean. During that year, he obtained the Regents' approval and headed the planning process for the Mission Bay campus. He also championed the historic merger of UCSF and Stanford clinical services, which he has referred to as a "brilliant but failed experiment."

After he returned to full-time duties as dean of the School of Medicine, he also was appointed Vice Chancellor for Medical Services.

“The last nine years have been both turbulent and triumphant,” Debas said Thursday, “They have made me believe in the strength of the culture of collaboration and the spirit of UCSF.”

He referred to the difficult years during the UCSF-Stanford merger and demerger of clinical services. He first contemplated retirement then, but changed his mind, refusing to abandon the campus. “You should know how much I appreciated it when you gave me your full confidence when I needed it most,” he told the audience at his State of the School address Thursday. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Stepping down as dean, he said, is easier, now that he has accomplished his main goals: working with the Medical Center towards its recovery; seeing the implementation of significant and innovative reforms in the School of Medicine curriculum and the creation of the Academy of Medical Educators; and ensuring that multidisciplinary centers created during his tenure -- the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Center for Health and Community and the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, for example – were sufficiently established.

In addition to winning the admiration of faculty and students, Debas was a champion for UCSF staff, and he worked to improve the quality of campus life. “I’ve always said that this is not just a place of curing, but also caring,” he said in 1998 after stepping down as chancellor to return to duties as dean of the School of Medicine.

“He’s going to be a tough act to follow,” said Stanton Glantz, an often vocal faculty member, who attended the Thursday State of the School of Medicine address. “I’m shocked. I'm speechless.”

“We are fortunate that he will continue to help orchestrate the transition to new leadership by remaining an active dean throughout this time frame,” said Neal Cohen, vice-dean, Academic Affairs, in the School of Medicine. “He has made a strong commitment to us that he won’t be a lame duck dean.”

“He’s been an extraordinary leader,” said Lee Goldman, chair of the Department of Medicine. “He’s truly beloved and he will be sorely missed.”

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