Drew University gets new president-designate

The struggling Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science has a new president-designate — David M. Carlisle, who now heads a California governmental agency.

The appointment of Carlisle, director of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, comes at a key time for the campus in Willowbrook, just south of Watts.

Drew remains on a two-year academic probation, and only eight months ago it was in danger of being seized by its lenders because it couldn’t make payments on its new $43-million nursing school.

Carlisle’s mission will be to further stabilize the university, both financially and academically.


Carlisle, who is set to leave his state job June 1 and begin his new job July 1, said his most pressing immediate goal is to ensure the university regains full accreditation from the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, which put the campus on a two-year probation in 2009. He also said for the long term, it is important that the university continue improving its fiscal health.

“We want to do what we can, not only to sustain the institution financially, but to grow it,” Carlisle said in an interview.

He also hopes to maintain good relationships with the University of California and foundations, while attracting new donors.

Carlisle follows a path where others have failed: In 2006, Drew’s board of trustees chose Susan Kelly, the first woman and white to lead the only historically black university west of the Mississippi.


Kelly pledged to expand the university’s ambitions. Instead, she left the university in 2009 in disarray: Professors gave her a vote of no confidence; the university was unable to pay for its new nursing school. And the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges was about to put Drew on probation.

Drew, established a year after the 1965 Watts riots to train minority physicians, has undergone crisis after crisis for a decade, and had been criticized for failing to have a “culture of accountability.”

Drew never fully recovered after it was forced in 2006 to shut its residency program to train new physicians, siphoning off a major revenue stream.

Dr. M. Roy Wilson, chairman of Drew’s board of trustees and acting president, said the university has been boosted in recent months by new financial support, enrollment growth at its nursing school, successful renegotiations on debt payments, and positive news on its bid to regain full academic accreditation.


A coalition of universities, hospitals and the California Endowment took over Drew’s board last year in a last-ditch effort to save the campus. They cut back on some costly business practices, such as the outsourcing of its human resources department, and ended some money-losing academic programs.

Wilson said that focusing on money-making programs, such as the nursing school, is allowing the campus to tap into a “huge revenue stream that we didn’t have before, and that will in turn allow us to invest in some other areas.”

Wilson declined to disclose Carlisle’s salary. There is no term to Carlisle’s contract, and he will serve at the pleasure of the board of trustees. He will have the option of living in the university’s residence in Ladera Heights or receive a $4,000 monthly living stipend, Wilson said.