A Cuban-born psychiatrist who some consider a community-oriented leader will be named the first dean of the new medical school in the Rio Grande Valley, sources familiar with the process said Thursday.
Dr. Francisco Fernandez, who chairs the College of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is set to be publicly named dean of the new medical school in Edinburg at the end of this month, said three people with knowledge of the situation.
There has not been an official announcement on Fernandez’s hiring and a selection has not been officially or publicly confirmed.
But that announcement may come soon to circumvent criticism by some who are unhappy with the selection of Fernandez.
Two sources did not wish to be identified because they are not authorized to speak about the hiring; the third requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“There is a big push for research,” said one source briefed on the selection process. The source has concerns that Fernandez's research experience may not have been as extensive as other candidates.
On the plus side, however, the official said, “He is very community-oriented.”
Former and present colleagues of Fernandez praised his personable nature.
“He is a really nice guy, seriously,” said Dr. Lynn Wecker, a professor in Fernandez’s department. “As a human being, I really like him a lot.”
Another concern that has been raised during the selection process is Fernandez’ psychiatry specialty, a medical field expected to be taught in Cameron County — not Hidalgo County, where the first two years of the medical school classes will be.
Fernandez could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the University of Texas System, which is overseeing the national search, said a single finalist for the position has been decided. LaCoste-Caputo declined to identify the finalist to allow the person time to notify current colleagues, but indicated that was the only step remaining in the process.
“We wanted to respect the finalist and allow him to inform his current colleagues,” she said.
The dean is scheduled to be introduced in person at stops in the Rio Grande Valley Feb. 26.
Fernandez had yet to notify members of his faculty by press time Thursday.
“He may have spoken to his administrative staff, but he has not said anything to faculty and I am totally surprised,” Wecker said.
Fernandez had also not told a longtime colleague who is now a provost at the University of Texas-El Paso.
“It’s hard to know, particularly being a brand new medical school, but he’s very collaborative and engaging and smart,” said Dr. Junius Gonzalez, a provost and vice president for academic affairs at UTEP, when asked how he thought Fernandez would fare as a dean.
As a medical fellow, Fernandez trained Gonzalez, then a resident, at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1980s. The two worked together again when Gonzalez was dean of USF’s College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. Gonzalez added he’d not spoken to Fernandez since leaving Tampa for El Paso in 2011.
Fernandez, 62, earned his doctorate from Tufts University in 1979, according to his resume. His first teaching job was as an assistant professor at M.D Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston from 1984 to 1986. He then took a job at Baylor’s school of medicine from 1986-1997. Before joining USF in 2002, he chaired the same department at Loyola University of Chicago.
He was certified as a psychiatrist in March 1985 and in pain management in October 1989.