OXFORD, Miss. – After more than a decade as dean of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, Barbara Wells, 66, is retiring to spend more time with her family and pursue some long-delayed interests.
Wells became UM’s pharmacy dean in summer 2001. Under her leadership, the school’s facilities have been greatly improved and expanded, its curriculum has been revised, its research enterprise has nearly doubled and its programs have become more nationally and internationally prominent.
On the Oxford campus, a 250-seat auditorium has been constructed between Faser Hall and the Thad Cochran Research Center, Faser has been expanded and partially renovated, the Maynard Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden has been moved and expanded, and more than $31 million is in place to build a 96,000-square-foot addition to the National Center for Natural Products Research. At the Medical Center in Jackson, a new building for pharmacy practice’s education and research programs will be ready this winter, and its clinical pharmacy program has become recognized as one of the country’s best.One hundred percent of the school’s May graduates passed the national licensure exam on their first attempt, and, for two consecutive years, its faculty and administrators garnered more extramural funding for research and construction than any other pharmacy school in the country.
“We have been able to grow our academic and research programs, and the infrastructure that supports them,” Wells said. “We’ve had a lot of successes.”
Although she said she derives immense satisfaction from them, she doesn’t take all the credit.
“These aren’t ‘my’ accomplishments. These are ‘our’ accomplishments,” Wells said, referring to a list of people that includes the school’s associate deans, faculty, staff and alumni.
“And, of course, [Chancellor] Dan Jones, who made the site for our new building in Jackson available to us, and [Provost] Morris Stocks, who supported the effort with advocacy and resources.”
Wells believes her role as dean was to help others see the school’s potential, as well as their own, and to help them do great things by creating the appropriate culture and providing the necessary resources when possible.
“Our School of Pharmacy is fulfilling all parts of its mission in a good spirit and with limited resources,” Jones said, praising Wells’ leadership. “It excels in education, research and service.”
That’s due, in part, because “she created an atmosphere of excellence and high expectations,” he said. “She understands and values relationships. She is appreciated and admired by faculty, students, alumni, policymakers and leaders in her profession.”
Wells’ relationships were key to what her associate deans believe is her most important achievement: securing funds for the building in Jackson and getting it constructed. It took two federal grants, plus a sizeable pot of gifts to “Promises to Keep,” the pharmacy school’s first capital campaign.
The building “was a big issue for accreditation,” said Charlie Hufford, associate dean for research.
Another success is accumulating resources for the auditorium and NCNPR addition, which involved funding from the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“Working with three federal agencies is always tricky,” Hufford said.
Alice Clark, UM vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs, said she is impressed by just how much the pharmacy school has increased its capacity for leading research and scholarship.
“In the 10 years since [Wells] became dean, the physical facilities of the School of Pharmacy have increased tremendously,” she said. “This increase in facilities, and only a modest increase in the total number of faculty and staff, has led to a significant increase in the productivity and impact of the research enterprise.”
From Clark’s perspective, the past decade was one in which the School of Pharmacy made “a major jump” in its national rankings for total sponsored funding.
“This was possible because of commitments the dean’s office made to major initiatives and programs that were ultimately successful, such as the NIH COBRE grant and funding for construction of the second phase of the NCNPR,” she said. “In the decade she has been dean, total sponsored funding increased from $16 million annually to $29 million.”
Hufford and Marvin Wilson, associate dean for academic and student affairs, both said Wells’ second-greatest achievement is the Distinguished Teaching Scholars Program.
“Until that program was created, we had significant awards for research but few for exceptional teaching,” Hufford added.
Another of Wells’ achievements is “elevation of the status of our clinical pharmacy program to one of the very top in the country,” said Larry Walker, NCNPR director.
“She took a very strong pharmacy practice program and – with her great vision and leadership in pharmacy education – brought it to new heights,” he said. “She is so well respected in leadership circles in pharmacy, and she has helped so many faculty realize their own potential in those circles. She also has a really remarkable work ethic, and I think her general aura of professional leadership and recognition around the country helped lift this school’s recognition to the top.”
Wells has been successful, Wilson said, because she is “persistent about pursuing an agenda of importance to her. She’s a good listener and can get other horses pulling in the right direction. She’s good at building consensus and galvanizing the troops.”
Leigh Ann Ross, pharmacy’s associate dean for clinical affairs, described Wells’ leadership abilities as “extraordinary” but links her successes to another part of her character.
“She is the ultimate mentor,” Ross said. “She inspires people and makes you want to do your best. She is such a strong leader and a good person. She cares about people – faculty, students, everyone – and she is driven to help people be successful.”
It doesn’t matter whether those people are associated with Ole Miss, or not, Ross said. “Within the profession, national pharmacy organizations and other pharmacy schools, she is known for her leadership and mentoring of young people, residents, junior faculty and other deans.”
As president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, Wells helped create the Academic Leadership Fellows Program (aka ALFP), which recently graduated its seventh class.
“I was among those fortunate to participate in this yearlong program, and I’m one of many who benefited professionally from the leadership abilities I developed as a fellow,” Ross said. “Dean Wells invests time in each and every member of our faculty, especially those in leadership positions. She mentors, advises and encourages all to develop the skills they need to be successful.”
Christopher McCurdy, associate professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, also is an ALFP graduate, as is Noel Wilkin, UM’s associate provost; Stephen Cutler, professor and chair of medicinal chemistry; Donna West-Strum, chair and associate professor of pharmacy administration; and some 200 other researchers, educators and administrators scattered across the country.
Wells “has done tremendous things for me as a mentor,” McCurdy said. “I learned things from her that will help me for the rest of my life.”
Although it’s common in academia for faculty and alumni to criticize executive decisions, an annual AACP survey indicates that 92 percent of Wells’ faculty approve of and support her efforts.
“She’s more patient than a lot of deans with faculty,” Wilson said. “She identifies opportunities and presents them to individuals with initiative.”
The approval rating from her faculty “is one of the most rewarding things that has happened to me as dean,” Wells said, but she hopes people remember her tenure as one in which she helped build the pharmacy school’s infrastructure and brought it national.
“I think 50 years from now, if anyone looks back at her deanship, her legacy will be our new auditorium, the building in Jackson and the addition to the Thad Cochran Research Center,” Hufford said.
While Wilson would add “enhanced acceptance of the School of Pharmacy as an integral component of the Medical Center” to her legacy, Cutler would add ALFP’s 200 graduates trained for leadership, who are “transforming pharmaceutical education across the country.”
“They include leaders in national pharmacy organizations and schools of pharmacy,” Cutler said. “Because of [ALFP], she has left a giant genetic footprint on pharmacy education in this country. Of all the people in pharmacy education today, she is one of only a handful who carries the greatest esteem and influence.”
Provost Stocks put it this way: “Throughout her career, Dean Wells has applied her wealth of experience as a clinician, educator, researcher and administrator to improving pharmacy education, pharmacy practice and patient care. Her body of work is of immense benefit to faculty, students and patients everywhere.
“We’re proud of what she has accomplished during her career, and we’re prouder still that someone with her professional standing, exemplary character and remarkable skill has provided vision and leadership for our School of Pharmacy.”
Travis King of Jackson, a 2010 UM pharmacy graduate, had similar feelings when he saw Wells’ name on his textbooks.
“It gave me a great sense of pride that ‘our dean’ was a lead author on my textbooks,” said King, an infectious disease resident at UMMC. “She is a sterling example of excellence in pharmacy, and you strive to be like her. If I could have one-third the career she has had, I’d be happy.”
On Jan. 2, Wells won’t have to get dressed and scoot to work for the first time in nearly 45 years.
“That day, I’m not going to wake up to that rude noise from my alarm clock,” she said, grinning. “It may end up at the bottom of Pickwick Lake,” where she and her husband, Richard, have a houseboat and hope to begin spending much more time.
“I will probably work some that day on two of the three books that I co-edit, but I am going to enjoy the phenomenal flexibility and freedom of retirement,” she said.
For more information, visit the UM School of Pharmacy, call 662-915-7265.