Tension mounts over dean's e-mails


Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 12:02 a.m.

Dr. Bruce Kone has drawn faculty critics for injecting himself into a recent admissions decision, but it's the University of Florida dean's personal style that is raising red flags for some UF leaders.

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Kone, appointed dean of UF's College of Medicine a year ago, is now facing scrutiny from faculty and at least two UF trustees. Mac McGriff, a UF trustee, said Kone's April 4 e-mail berating UF President Bernie Machen's staff was "absolutely, completely, totally inappropriate."

"His e-mail, when he talks about the mediocrity of the University of Florida and the leadership of the president's office, I really have a problem with that," McGriff said.

Other Kone e-mails have raised concerns as well. In a November e-mail, recently obtained by The Sun, Kone accuses a veteran faculty member of stalking him, adding that the faculty member had frightened him and "is very lucky he didn't get Maced."

Kone's April 4 e-mail was sent to UF President Bernie Machen and his staff after The Sun published a story about Kone's decision to override the Medical Selection Committee and admit a student from a politically connected family. In the e-mail, Kone called Gainesville a place of "small minds," adding that UF has been "stuck in mediocrity" for more than a decade.

Dianna Morgan, chairwoman of UF's board of trustees, told The Sun in an e-mail that "Dean Kone has made significant contributions and I would hope that the memo is not reflective of his normal style of communication."

But Kone's e-mails have been questioned before. In November, Kone used e-mail to outline a laundry list of reasons for dismissing a veteran faculty member, prompting criticism that Kone had publicly besmirched the reputation of Dr. Robert Watson, a former senior associate dean for educational affairs who had the strong support of some faculty and students. The e-mail was sent to chairs throughout the college, and Kone later bemoaned the fact that his communique had been viewed by some as a "character assassination" of Watson.

Kone expressed further frustration that his e-mail to the chairs had been "leaked," and promised to find the culprit. In an e-mail sent to Watson's chairman, Dr. Edward Valenstein, Kone said he would find the "conspirator" who leaked the e-mail.

"I knew it was leaked because Bob (Watson) stalked me back to my car late Wednesday, appeared at my car looking menacing, then referred to my e-mail," Kone wrote Nov. 23. "He scared me to death and is very lucky he didn't get Maced. (The UF Police Department) is investigating, and they will be checking his and other computers to see who was a conspirator. Absolutely a pathetic outcome."

UPD has no record of any such investigation taking place.

Valenstein and Watson both declined to comment for this story, and Kone could not be reached.

Dr. Douglas Barrett, Kone's boss, said he thought it was "unfortunate" that Kone had sent the rather abusive April 4 e-mail to Machen's staff. Barrett, the outgoing senior vice president for health affairs, was also a recipient of the April e-mail.

"I think that it was unfortunate that he wrote it, and unfortunate that it was distributed and not something that Bruce is proud of either," Barrett said.

But Barrett declined to comment when pressed further on the question of whether Kone's April e-mail was indicative of a larger pattern of abusive behavior.

"That's not a question I think I would answer in this forum," Barrett said. "I think the way the articles In the paper are coming across is sort of painting a picture that I think is unfortunate for Dean Kone."

Barrett also was silent when asked if he thought Kone should stay on as dean.

"That's not a question I'll answer here," Barrett said. "Bruce is appointed dean. He is the dean today, and what more do you need?"

Concerns over Kone have captured the attention of at least one member of the Shands board of directors. Jerry Davis, a private investor in Jacksonville and major UF contributor, said he has spoken with faculty who are worried about Kone's style.

"I think strategically he is very capable of the job, (but) I think he really needs to work on how he interacts with people and, quite frankly, the way he values the people that are on his staff," said Davis, a cancer survivor who gave $5 million to UF for cancer research in 1998.

As a Shands board member, Davis says he has no professional authority to decide whether Kone should stay on as dean. On the other hand, he said he's worried that some faculty "are not pleased with his appointment at all" and that may affect Shands' ability to retain doctors.

"If we don't have the doctors, we don't have a business," he said, "and I am concerned about that."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.

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