Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

'A major step forward': Charles Drew president to be inaugurated more than 1 year after taking over

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Imagine if the president of the United States got elected, but then immediately became so busy that he couldn't find time to be inaugurated until about a year-and-a-half later.

That's essentially what happened to Dr. David Carlisle, who took the reins as president of Charles Drew University in July 2011. At the time, he had enough to worry about without an impending inauguration on his plate. The South L.A. medical school was coming off years of shaky accreditation, even shakier financial stability and a beleaguered relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, which had become notorious for incompetence.

Carlisle's being appointed president was a key part of a successful last-ditch attempt to save the university. Since then, the school has taken a rather remarkable turn – for the better.

"About this time last year, we were wrestling with what could have been a very significant budget deficit," said Carlisle. "But we managed to finish the [fiscal] year with a balanced budget."

That's not all that happened. Drew University also brought a vice president of strategic advancement on board, as well as a chief operating officer who "brought into place a major focus on policies, procedures and budgetary rigor."

And, when the university's nursing program – also its largest program – was denied accreditation during the middle of last year, Carlisle and his staff worked overtime to make sure it eventually gained double accreditation, from both the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

"The most important thing is the ongoing stability of the institution," he said. "If we did not have a firm organizational foundation, we couldn't aspire to anything else, so the focus has been on strengthening, building up and firming up that institutional foundation.

"So we've been really busy, and haven't actually been focusing on the ceremonial things," he added.

But no longer. Things are finally running smoothly enough that President Carlisle is going to be officially inaugurated – tomorrow at noon, on the campus of Charles Drew University.

Carlisle has said in no uncertain terms that the university is "in the midst of a comeback"; in his inaugural address tomorrow, he plans to reassure the campus community that Drew won't be so dramatically derailed again.

"I do want to offer the students who choose to come here and seek degrees from our institution the confidence that this is an organization that will be there to support them in the future," he said.

The president says he foresees greater enrollment, as well as a more sizable leadership role when it comes to health policy issues. Folks can "definitely look forward" to more programs, too; Carlisle said by 2015, he's hoping to have reestablished Charles Drew's residency education and physician's assistant education programs. He says he's also looking forward to collaborating with the new King Hospital, scheduled to open in 2014.

Not even a decade ago, Carlisle's ambitions for Charles Drew would have garnered some pretty bewildered stares. That's no longer the case – but before he rolls up his sleeves again, he's going to button them up and get inaugurated.

"I'm humbled, I'm honored, I'm thrilled by the recognition and the confidence that the board of trustees and academic community places in me to be the steward of this institution that means so much to so many people," said Carlisle. "This is a major step forward."

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