Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia

Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia

Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, who is one of the highest paid employees at the University of Arizona, will resign his post as senior vice president for health sciences.

The UA announced the resignation on Thursday afternoon. Garcia will continue to receive his $870,000 annual salary for two more years under terms of his contract. He will remain working at the UA as a professor at the UA College of Medicine - Tucson and as a researcher.

Garcia's high profile presence at the UA includes overseeing the university's two medical schools — one in Tucson and one in Phoenix. They are currently the only allopathic medical schools in a state with an existing and projected doctor shortage.

"This is a great opportunity for a fresh start," said Cary Pfeffer, a Phoenix resident, author and owner of a consulting firm who sat on a community advisory board to the Phoenix medical school for several years.

"I think the people who have been supportive of medical education at the U of A will be watching this closely and enthusiastically hoping for a good person to take his spot."

$595 million budget

In addition to the medical schools Garcia oversees the UA College of Pharmacy, the UA College of Nursing, and the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. The total health sciences budget is $595 million per year.

Garcia has been the focus of scrutiny this year, most recently when the Arizona Board of Regents contracted a law firm to do a report on concerns about the leadership of the medical schools. The report cost $180,000 in public money but the board of regents, which is the governing body for the state's public university system, has so far refused to release the report to the public.

The decision to do a report was announced after the regents convened in August to address increasing scrutiny of the medical schools and their leadership.

Public criticism of the UA medical school leadership began after well-regarded UA College of Medicine-Phoenix dean Stuart D. Flynn announced in March that he was leaving to be the founding dean of a new medical school in Texas. Shortly after, five members of Flynn’s leadership team, including the associate dean of admissions and the vice dean of academic affairs, announced their departures.

Critics say it is unheard of for virtually the entire leadership team of a medical school to leave at once. Garcia responded that such departures are common in academic medicine.

Earlier in the summer, the 4,000-member Arizona Medical Association, which has a membership of physicians and medical students, called for an independent investigation into why so many of the Phoenix medical school leaders left at once.

The association expressed concern that the departure of so many top leaders could affect the school’s attempt to see full accreditation, a process that is ongoing.

The association asked for exit interviews with the departed deans and publicly called on the Board of Regents to initiate an investigation into “any U of A organizational impediments or policies that contributed to the departures of the well-respected and quality team that was in place.”

As further fuel to the scrutiny, Garcia, attracted public attention in August when he was the subject of an Arizona Republic article. The article focused on his travel expenses, including a chauffeured car that costs $475 or more for trips between Tucson and Phoenix.

Research portfolio

In its news release, UA officials said that Garcia would be resigning his administrative position devote more time to being a medical school professor and to his expanding research portfolio. Garcia holds a tenured appointment as the Dr. Merlin K. DuVal Professor of Medicine in the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

In a prepared statement, Hart said that Garcia's leadership will be missed, but that she is "extremely happy" that Garcia has decided to continue his work as a, "world class physician scientist and teacher, and that his impact on the University of Arizona will continue for years to come."

Garcia said in a prepared statement that his first love is cutting-edge clinical and translational research and clinical care, and science-based teaching for the next generation.

"I am proud to have been able to have had such a strong impact on health science at the University of Arizona and am pleased to be able to continue to contribute to this important effort through my scientific research, teaching and clinical work," his statement says.

Garcia will return to the faculty full time in January 2017. An interim senior vice president will be named soon. UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said he expects a search committee will be convened to find Garcia's replacement.

The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday issued a statement thanking Garcia for his, "demonstrated excellence and integrity." The regents credited Garcia for helping secure the UA's affiliation agreement with Phoenix-based Banner Health in 2015 and for spearheading a dramatic increase in federal research grants, including the awarding of the National Institutes of Health Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program — $43.3 million over five years.

"The Regents thank Dr. Garcia for his leadership, service and dedication to excellence across the tripartite missions of education, patient care, and research," the statement says. "The UA Health Sciences is on an outstanding trajectory, and the Board remains fully committed to assuring its continued success."

Contact health reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@tucson.com

Twitter: @stephanieinnes