Dr. Princess Dennar — the administrator at the Tulane School of Medicine who was removed from a senior post in February in the midst of a lawsuit she filed against the university claiming racial and gender discrimination — has turned down a conditional offer to be reinstated to her position.
The offer was contingent on expanded oversight over Dennar’s position, including “executive coaching, additional administrative support to help leadership meet all compliance and reporting requirements, and on-going oversight and guidance.”
The conditions of the offer, she wrote in a Friday afternoon letter to Tulane President Michael Fitts, “are highly demeaning and humiliating. … I cannot accept such an ‘offer’ ” A Tulane spokesperson did not respond to The Lens’ questions by publication time.
Dennar was previously the director of the School of Medicine’s Medicine-Pediatrics residency program, and was the only Black woman to have held the role. She remains employed at Tulane in another program as an assistant medical director.
She was suspended from the Medicine-Pediatrics position Feb. 11, a demotion she alleged was in retaliation for a lawsuit she’d filed against Tulane in October 2020.
That lawsuit accused the school of a longstanding pattern of racism and sexism that undermined her authority as a program director. She alleged that Dr. Lee Hamm, now dean of the School of Medicine, had told her during a 2008 hiring process that white students wouldn’t apply to a program with a Black director, and that another high-level administrator had given her residents — who were disproportionately women of color — more arduous work that prevented them from completing nationally mandated educational requirements. The lawsuit also described a software program used in admissions that allegedly discounted graduates of historically Black institutions.
Hamm has repeatedly denied the specific accusations of racism and retaliation. However, both he and Fitts have recently outlined diversity and equity initiatives at the school in their responses to Dennar.
According to Hamm, Dennar’s suspension was based on a review of the program by an outside group, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which oversees residency programs nationwide.
The ACGME issued a warning status for Dennar’s program, which Hamm said “triggered an automatic review of the program.” Such warning statuses, according to Dr. John Combes, chief public policy officer with the ACGME, are “not infrequent.” A warning status also doesn’t require any procedural steps on the part of the institution, although it is required to address the underlying issues.
Dennar, however, argued in a February 16 letter that the ACGME warning status had in fact been issued based on the problems she outlined in her lawsuit, and that the university policy that led to the automatic review was put in place to target her program.
In the weeks following Dennar’s suspension, numerous groups related to the School of Medicine spoke out on her behalf. Alumni, current residents, faculty, and medical students all published open letters questioning the review process and calling for further transparency. Several also called for Hamm’s removal as dean.
A letter published in late February by alumni of the Medicine-Pediatrics program contained 18 testimonials praising Dennar’s mentorship, particularly of Black women physicians. “She is the reason I have come out of Tulane as a stronger person, better physician, and staunch advocate for communities of color,” wrote one.
On Tuesday, Hamm sent a letter addressed to the School of Medicine that offered to reinstate Dennar’s program directorship, based on feedback he’d received about Dennar’s leadership.
“I have heard directly from members of our community who are highly supportive of Dr. Dennar and her work; and I’ve also heard stories of students and residents in our BIPOC community who look up to Dr. Dennar as a mentor,” he wrote. “In a world where there are too few Black leaders in medicine, she has served as an inspiration to many.”
Previous statements from Hamm and Fitts had said that Dennar could appeal her suspension. It’s not clear if this reinstatement offer was based on an appeals process or other institutional procedure.
Dennar, in her Friday response, described the conditions of the offer as “an act of public shaming and defamation to deflect blame from [Hamm] and other prominent leaders.” She wrote that it failed to acknowledge the issues she’d raised with the special review, and that the conditions were meant to “shift blame away from Tulane.”
And a group of medical students, the SLAM Coalition, raised questions about the timing of the offer, which came the same day as a “Today” show segment on Dennar. There’s also been national attention on the case within medical publications, and on social media. In an open letter to Fitts, the group wrote that “a singular national news spot, however, seems to have overturned the decision of our ‘diverse’ [Graduate Medical Education committee’s] special review.”
In her letter, Dennar issued a “counteroffer” to take “definitive action to put in effect, with deliberate speed, antiracist values.” She outlined a series of steps, including mandatory antiracist training for employees, executive coaching for senior leadership at the School of Medicine, and third party reviews of claims of racial and gender harassment.
She also asked for a public apology, and said that she was “willing to meet to discuss a resolution and potential solutions” with Fitts.