Karen Antman Stepping Down as BU’s Medical School Dean and Medical Campus Provost

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Karen Antman, who led two transformative decades for Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine as dean of the school and provost of the Medical Campus, has announced plans to step down from those roles and return to the faculty at the BU medical school as a professor of medicine when her successor is named.

Antman, a leading expert on breast cancer, mesotheliomas, and sarcomas, also presided over the construction of BU’s first medical student residence, throwing an affordable housing lifeline to students facing medical education bills. Antman oversaw the renaming of the medical school in 2022 following a staggering $100 million gift from alum and philanthropist Edward Avedisian (CFA’59,’61, Hon.’22). She has led the Medical Campus since 2005 and says the pending inauguration of a fellow physician, Melissa Gilliam, as the new University president helped prompt her to step down from the school’s leadership.

“A new president—an MD—should pick their own new dean for the medical school,” Antman says. She also wants to spend more time with her family. “I plan to take a sabbatical. After a real vacation, I plan to collaboratively write infrastructure grants,” for the medical school, she says.

Kenneth Freeman, BU president ad interim, says information about appointing her successor will be forthcoming in the next several months.

“Dr. Antman has been consistently committed to facilitating faculty and student research,” he adds. “Faculty members have particularly appreciated the establishment of the Proposal Development office, which assists faculty in writing grants.”

Robert A. Brown, BU president emeritus, who worked closely with Antman during his 18-year tenure, says Antman “has been a wonderful leader of our medical school, demonstrating time and again her unwavering commitment to our medical students and the quality of their education. Her work has been recognized nationally, and she leaves the school well positioned to excel.”

The Medical Campus provost oversees the South End complex, which includes the medical school, the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the University’s collaborative role with Boston Medical Center, BU’s primary teaching hospital and New England’s largest safety net hospital. (BMC has also just named a new president.)

Antman sums up her institution-changing tenure as “construction, fundraising, and recruiting the right leadership for the campus and school.”

The $100 million gift from Avedisian, an investor and for four decades a clarinetist with the Boston Pops and the Boston Ballet Orchestra, was a capstone to Antman’s tenure. Avedisian had suggested that the school be renamed after his lifelong friend Aram Chobanian (Hon.’06)—cardiologist, BU president emeritus, and dean emeritus of the medical school and provost of the Medical Campus. Neither man wanted his name on the school until they were persuaded to allow it to be named after both of them.

The gift will enable $50 million for scholarships for medical students, $25 million to support endowed professorships, and $25 million to the Avedisian Fund for Excellence, supporting cutting-edge research and teaching.

Brown said of the medical residence, at its 2010 groundbreaking: “This facility will make the burden of a medical education a little bit lighter to carry.” In recent years, MDs have been among the five degrees that account for most student debt.

Financial management of the medical school and Medical Campus involved more than the renaming gift, especially during the first decade of Antman’s tenure, a time of flat budgets at one critical funding source, the National Institutes of Health. Antman says she nevertheless managed to recruit “outstanding, grant-funded faculty to new and renovated campus facilities, paid for by moving faculty to campus from off-campus rental space, thus decreasing costs and significantly increasing our research funding.”

She is proud, she says, of the “better prepared, more accomplished medical and graduate students” that the medical school has attracted during her tenure. “We are now the top choice for many, and turned down for only the most competitive medical schools.”

Antman led in opening more than 20 new research cores (shared research facilities) “to provide access to expensive, state-of-the-art equipment,” she says, including the $8 million Center for Biomedical Imaging and the $4 million Cryogenic Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM) Core Facility, opening this summer with a state-of-the-art electron microscope. Antman also cites the establishment of an office to assist faculty with grant writing.

BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, created on her watch in 2008, has garnered international recognition for its research into the debilitating effects of repeated head traumas, in athletes and military especially. The center says its bank of 1,250-plus donated brains for study is “the largest tissue repository in the world focused on traumatic brain injury and CTE.”

Beyond new facilities, Antman oversaw a revised, team-based MD curriculum that necessitated “substantial renovations of every floor,” in the Instructional Building, she says, “including a 250-seat testing center, a 6,000-square-foot Team-Based Learning Lab, and completely renovated library floors.”

Before her BU service, Antman was deputy director of translational and clinical sciences at the National Cancer Institute. She also has been on the faculties of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (where she earned her MD and codirected the cancer care service line at New York–Presbyterian Hospital) and of Harvard Medical School, from 1979 to 1993. At Harvard, she had hospital appointments at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

She has edited five textbooks and monographs, authored or coauthored more than 300 publications, and written reviews and editorials on such topics as medical education, medical policy, and the effect that research funding and managed care have on clinical research.

As dean, Antman was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine, an advisory group to the federal government, and chaired the American Association of Medical College Council of Deans. She also served on the board of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.