Dr. Kern Wildenthal to retire after 22 years as
UT Southwestern president

Dr. Kern Wildenthal
Dr. Kern Wildenthal

DALLAS — Oct. 9, 2007 — Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D., will retire September 2008 as president of UT Southwestern Medical Center, a position he has held since 1986. He will remain on the faculty as a tenured professor and devote most of his efforts to philanthropic pursuits on behalf of the medical center.

“After 22 years as president and 10 years prior to that as a dean at UT Southwestern, next year will be the perfect time for me to turn the reins over to a new leader,” Dr. Wildenthal said, in announcing his decision.

“When Ken Shine (UT System executive vice chancellor for health affairs) and I agreed on this plan last year, I wanted to be certain that our Innovations in Medicine campaign was assured of success and that the 2007 legislative session was successfully concluded before making an official announcement.  Now, with both those goals achieved, it is important to give the UT Regents ample opportunity to conduct a search for my successor in a time frame that will enable me to assist in the leadership transition, well before the beginning of the 2009 legislative session.”

Dr. Wildenthal’s accomplishments as president — during the longest tenure of any current leader of a Texas state university — are as remarkable as the personal path the 66-year-old has followed since being accepted to UT Southwestern Medical School at the age of 18.

“UT Southwestern Medical Center is now considered one of the top medical centers in the world, and that is due in large part to Kern Wildenthal’s leadership and vision of excellence,” said Paul M. Bass, chairman of the board of Southwestern Medical Foundation.  “He has been especially effective in increasing the Dallas community’s philanthropic support of UT Southwestern, and during his tenure the institution’s endowment has increased from $40 million to $1.3 billion.

“We are especially pleased that he has agreed to assume an increased role with Southwestern Medical Foundation after his retirement as president.”

An important result of Dr. Wildenthal’s fundraising successes has been the recruitment and retention of internationally renowned physicians and researchers who are advancing mankind’s understanding of health and disease, educating the next generation of professionals, and providing superlative medical care to hundreds of thousands of patients each year.

No other medical school in the world can boast of four active Nobel laureates on its faculty. Seventeen faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors attainable by an American scientist, and 19 are members of the Institute of Medicine of the NAS, including Dr. Wildenthal.

During the past two decades, the physical size of the medical center — which comprises UT Southwestern Medical School, UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, UT Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School and UT Southwestern University Hospitals & Clinics — has more than tripled — from 2.5 million square feet to over 8 million square feet of space on land that has increased from 65 acres to 231 acres.

“I am most proud of the quality of this institution, how it has grown, and the impact it has had on people’s lives in education, research and clinical care,” said Dr. Wildenthal. “I believe that UT Southwestern is now recognized broadly throughout our community and across the nation as one of Dallas’, Texas’ and America’s crown jewels.”

“The high regard for UT Southwestern is reflected in the enormous success we’ve had with capital development,” said William T. Solomon, chairman of UT Southwestern’s Innovations in Medicine campaign.  “Dr. Wildenthal’s departure will follow the conclusion of a planned $500 million fundraising effort for medical research and clinical care that has already surpassed $630 million.”

“And we’re not stopping,” Dr. Wildenthal said. “There are several items among the campaign priorities that have not yet met their individual goals. We will continue working to ensure that each component is fully funded by the end of the year.”

As soon as he notified Dr. Shine in August 2006 of his intention to step down, Dr. Wildenthal began planning for the next phase of his career. 

“In addition to helping Southwestern Medical Foundation with its activities, I am looking forward to assisting the new president in any way he or she wishes,” he said.

He also agreed in the spring of 2007 to become president of the board of the Dallas Opera for two years beginning in summer 2008, a responsibility that he had never been able to undertake while serving as president of UT Southwestern. Additionally, he will continue working toward completion of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, for which he was a founding board member.

Internationally, he will continue to serve on the American advisory board of England’s University of Cambridge, as an honorary fellow of Cambridge’s Hughes Hall, and as a director of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. He will remain active in the International Society for Heart Research, for which he served previously as president of the North American Section.

“I am also looking forward to having time to do some writing about public policy on health care and medical research, and about some of the remarkable physicians, scientists, philanthropists, and civic and political figures I have had the unique opportunity to know and work with in Texas and around the world over the past three decades,” he said.

His decades-long dedication to the institution that educated him and supported his meteoric rise is only matched by the loyalty of the faculty who have served with him.

“For 26 years, I’ve had the privilege of working under Kern, who recruited me to Dallas in 1981 when he was the dean of the medical school,” said Dr. Al Gilman, 1994 Nobel laureate and executive vice president for academic affairs, provost and current dean of UT Southwestern.  “He is highly respected by the faculty not only as a superb administrator but also as an excellent medical scientist.  I have personally gained an appreciation from working with him about what it takes to be successful and responsive to the faculty. He has always been extremely fair, visionary and ambitious; he has total integrity and an enormous work ethic, while still remaining very accessible, which is extremely important.”

James R. Huffines, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, said, “Dr. Wildenthal’s rare combination of gifts has earned him the highest esteem of the entire Board of Regents.  In his tenure he has shown the creativity to envision a bold road into the future for UT Southwestern, as well as the practical leadership skills needed to make that vision a reality.  The UT System owes him a great debt of gratitude for his remarkable service to higher education and to the State of Texas.” 


What UT Southwestern has accomplished due to Dr. Wildenthal’s foresight and under his steady, deliberate hand is remarkable:

  • Over the past two decades, the size of the faculty has more than doubled to over 1,500 members. His commitment to providing opportunities to all citizens has brought UT Southwestern to the top rank of medical schools in terms of minority representation in student and employee diversity.  The leadership team he has assembled includes a number of women and minorities as vice presidents, deans, department chairs and center directors.
  •  The student body size also has increased twofold. Students in the medical, graduate and allied health schools, as well as medical residents and fellows now number more than 4,200. These superbly educated health professionals provide the core of the health care workforce for North Texas, and many have assumed leadership positions across the state and nation.
  •  The number of employees has tripled, now numbering 9,500 (40 percent of whom are minorities), making UT Southwestern one of the largest employers in Dallas.
  • UT Southwestern’s new North Campus has become a reality as six major new biomedical buildings have been built and opened, providing state-of-the-art laboratory and clinical space. In 2006 the state Legislature and the UT System provided $84 million toward the next $200 million research building on the North Campus, for which construction will begin later this year.
  • Research expenditures have soared from $56 million in 1986 to $361 million during the past year. Currently, more than 3,500 separate research projects are being conducted at UT Southwestern.
  • Since the mid-1980s, 1,300 UT Southwestern researchers have been named as inventors on more than 1,400 invention disclosures. Among all American universities and medical schools, UT Southwestern is ranked in the top 25 for intellectual property revenue, averaging over $10 million per year since 2000.
  •  Federal grants and contracts now account for almost $200 million of the university’s annual budget, compared to less than one-fourth that amount in 1986.  In addition to a quadrupling of competitive awards from the National Institutes of Health, Congress has entrusted significant special funding to UT Southwestern, including a $75 million program over five years to serve as the nation’s center for research on Gulf War syndrome.
  • Total institutional operating funding has grown from $184,000,000 in 1986 to $1,423,000,000 in 2007.
  • UT Southwestern physicians provide care to referral patients from across the nation, as well as to the majority of Dallas’ indigent patients. Referral outpatient visits currently number over 500,000 annually, compared to fewer than 100,000 in 1986.  Simultaneously, indigent and uninsured patient visits total twice that number, principally at UT Southwestern’s outstanding primary teaching affiliate, Parkland Memorial Hospital. At the same time, UT Southwestern’s pediatric care programs for both referred and indigent patients at Children’s Medical Center Dallas have tripled over the past two decades.
  • The construction of Zale Lipshy University Hospital in 1989 to serve UT Southwestern’s referral patients, followed by the medical center’s acquisition in 2005 of both Zale Lipshy and St. Paul Medical Center, have dramatically enhanced UT Southwestern’s impact on clinical care in the Metroplex.  Patients from all 50 states and several foreign countries are now cared for in these two facilities, which have been merged as the newly formed UT Southwestern University Hospitals. Additionally, a $75 million outpatient surgery and diagnostic building was opened in 2006 — the first of several clinical towers that will replace the former St. Paul buildings.
  • UT Southwestern’s quality and success have been increasingly recognized and rewarded by the Texas legislature, which has provided steadily growing appropriations since 1987. Enhancement of state support has been especially impressive in recent years. Since 2001, the Legislature and governor have granted special recurring funding allocations for a new Institute for Innovations in Medical Technologies ($9 million per year, approved in 2001), an Institute for Nobel/National Academy of Sciences Research ($7 million per year, approved in 2003), a unique Advanced Imaging Research Center ($7.5 million per year, approved in 2005), and a new Comprehensive Center for Research in Obesity and Diabetes ($9 million per year, approved this year). Additionally, the Legislature authorized special funding of $40 million in 2001 for a new research tower, $56 million for a state-of-the-art advanced medical imaging building in 2003, plus $42 million for another new research building in 2006. State appropriations for the current fiscal year total over $144 million, compared to $48.7 million in Dr. Wildenthal’s first year as president. At the same time, however, other revenue sources - including research grants, fees for clinical services, and private philanthropy - have grown even more rapidly, so that the percentage of total institutional support provided by the state has dropped progressively from over 30 percent to only 10 percent.
  • Annual private donations to support UT Southwestern’s operations, endowment and capital construction have increased from $11 million in 1986 to a record-setting $166 million in the 2007 fiscal year, reflecting North Texas’ pride and confidence in the medical center’s continuing contributions.


Dr. Wildenthal’s career in medicine began when he was accepted to UT Southwestern Medical School in the spring of 1960 at the age of 18. After graduating in 1964, he interned at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and then returned to UT Southwestern for an internal medicine residency and postdoctoral fellowship in cardiology.  He received further experience in cardiology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., before crossing the Atlantic for additional training, earning a Ph.D. in cell physiology from the University of Cambridge in England in 1970.

Dr. Wildenthal then returned to Dallas to join the faculty of UT Southwestern Medical School as an assistant professor of internal medicine and physiology.  He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1971.  Four years later he won a Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct further research at Cambridge, the same year his Southwestern students voted him outstanding teacher of the year. Upon his return in 1976, he added administrative responsibilities to his research, clinical and teaching activities, when he was selected by the faculty and then-president Dr. Charles Sprague to serve as dean of the graduate school.

In 1980, at the age of 38, he was named dean of the medical school.  Upon his appointment, he was the youngest dean of any American medical school, and six years later, when he became UT Southwestern’s president, he was still the country’s youngest medical school dean.


In fiscal year 1984-85, the year before Dr. Wildenthal was selected as UT Southwestern’s second president, the medical center’s annual operating budget was $183 million. $62.5 million of that (34 percent) came from state tax funds; private philanthropy accounted for 5 percent, with the remainder coming principally from research grants and clinical fees.

Then, four weeks after Dr. Wildenthal assumed office on Sept. 1, 1986, in the midst of the worst Texas recession since the 1930s, the state Legislature made across-the-board cuts in tax support for higher education and, in the process, slashed UT Southwestern’s budget to $48.7 million. Dr. Wildenthal immediately understood that the medical center would have to begin building a new financial base for future generations of researchers, clinicians and students if the university were to realize its goal of pre-eminence.

“My appointment as president coincided with a significant decrease in state funds,” Dr. Wildenthal recalled, “and it was very clear that the future of the university would depend increasingly on philanthropy.

“At the time, UT Southwestern was the best kept secret in Dallas. There was a small group of dedicated, core supporters, but the university had no track record of major philanthropy,” and, as Dr. Wildenthal noted, there actually had been no urgent need for philanthropy because, from 1965 to 1985, annual increases in state funding had averaged more than 15 percent per year, compounded.

“With the dramatic state budget cuts that occurred as I began my new job,” he said, “our core of community supporters, who had so faithfully supported and guided the school over the years, advised me that it would be important to make sure that many more of our philanthropic, civic and political leaders became fully acquainted with UT Southwestern’s quality, our needs, and our importance to Dallas’ and Texas’ future. To accomplish that, they encouraged me to become intimately involved in the community, to bring people to the campus, and to be personally active in many of the other causes that are important for the city and region and that also deserve support.”

It was advice that Dr. Wildenthal and his wife Marnie embraced wholeheartedly.

His community involvement has extended to service on the boards of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Dallas Citizens Council, Dallas Assembly, Museum of Nature & Science, Dallas Opera, Dallas Symphony, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Business Committee for the Arts and Dallas Center for the Performing Arts.  In 2004 TACA awarded him the Neiman Marcus Silver Cup Award for his outstanding volunteer contributions to the arts in Dallas, and in 2006 Southern Methodist University awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his civic and professional achievements.

At the same time, Marnie Wildenthal, who has worked continuously as a middle-school teacher at the Episcopal School of Dallas for the past three decades, has combined her duties representing UT Southwestern alongside her husband with an active role in the volunteer community.  She has served on the boards of the Mental Health Association, Vickery Meadows Learning Center, Highland Park Education Foundation, Chiapas Project, Shelton School, and Friends of WRR, and was docent chair of the Dallas Opera Guild for a number of years.  In 2005 she was elected as chairman of TACA, and she served as president of Charter 100 in 2006-07.

The couple was honored jointly by Texas Woman’s University in 2006, when they received the Virginia Chandler Dykes Award for Leadership.

“Kern and Marnie are extremely effective ambassadors for UT Southwestern in our community,” said Mr. Bass.  “They truly care about improving the quality of life for all our people, and they work hard and give generously to help make Dallas a better place to live.”

Dr. Wildenthal’s immersion in community affairs coincided with a focused effort to increase the awareness of UT Southwestern throughout North Texas.  He reached out to share the medical center’s accomplishments and contributions with some of the most influential people in Dallas, the Metroplex and throughout the state.

Dr. Wildenthal recognized that two institutional priorities had to be addressed before UT Southwestern could succeed in its plan to significantly enhance its local and worldwide stature. Most urgent was the need for additional clinical facilities.  After becoming dean of the medical school, he had appointed three high-level faculty committees to identify long-range institutional priorities in education, research and clinical care. Each of the three had named a new hospital for referred adult patients — to complement the excellent services already in place at Parkland Memorial Hospital and Children’s Medical Center — as the school’s most critical need.  Working with Dr. Charles Sprague, his predecessor as president, Dr. Wildenthal began plans for what was to become the new Zale Lipshy University Hospital, which, when it opened in 1989, enabled UT Southwestern to serve increased numbers of patients with a broad spectrum of disorders.

The second immediate priority was a need to acquire additional land to accommodate the medical center’s future growth, since the school’s original 65-acre site, donated by the Hoblitzelle Foundation in the early 1950s, had become inadequate. To address this problem, Dr. Wildenthal, in company with a small group of medical school and civic leaders, approached the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago, which owned vacant land in an ideal site across the street. By 1988, they had secured the foundation’s agreement to provide 90 acres over several years for what would become UT Southwestern’s new North Campus and had developed a masterplan for adding more than 5 million square feet of additional buildings on the site over the coming decades.

Additional facilities and land alone would have been relatively unimportant without a third, crucial component: an outstanding world-renowned faculty to provide patient care and conduct research. Fortunately, the world-class caliber of the faculty was powerfully validated in late 1985 when the first Nobel Prizes ever awarded to Texas researchers were conferred upon UT Southwestern professors Drs. Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein.

So with new state-of-the-art clinical facilities under construction to serve the community, land to accommodate long-term needs assured, and the medical center’s quality affirmed, UT Southwestern was ready to move to center stage among Dallas and Texas institutions. Over the next two decades, Dr. Wildenthal did indeed guide his institution into the top echelon of the world’s medical centers and into an object of great pride for the Metroplex and Texas.

With no institutional history of large-scale, sustained fundraising and no development staff in place, Dr. Wildenthal focused personally on integrating the institution into the community. Quietly and determinedly, he ensured that leading citizens became thoroughly knowledgeable about UT Southwestern’s programs and needs and strove to develop relationships of trust with individual civic leaders.

“Kern doesn’t try to charm people into making financial contributions to UT Southwestern,” said Mr. Bass.  “He gives them a very clear vision of the future he sees for the institution, and that vision is something our donors want to be a part of.  They want to help make it happen.”

His low-key style of encouraging close personal involvement and interaction between benefactors and medical center leaders rapidly began yielding results. Between 1987 and 1995, Dr. Wildenthal brought in five of the six largest gifts that had ever been given to any public medical school up to that time. The Perot Foundation committed $20 million in 1987 and subsequently provided an additional $60 million. Harold C. Simmons made a $41 million contribution in 1988 and has added to it over the years to bring the current total to more than $127 million. An anonymous donor’s early grant of $25 million has been subsequently supplemented to provide a total of almost $200 million. The year 1990 saw the culmination of a $21 million campaign to provide funds to establish endowed chairs for UT Southwestern’s senior scientists and clinicians. During 1992-95, the Fund for Molecular Research — at the time, the largest fundraising campaign for research ever undertaken by an American medical school as well as the largest private-donor campaign ever conducted in Dallas — raised more than $165 million. A special 1997-98 campaign raised $52 million to launch the Endowed Scholars Program in Medical Science, designed to attract the world’s future medical stars to Dallas, accelerate their careers and help them develop as future leaders. And in 1999 the Moncrief Cancer Foundation of Fort Worth donated its entire assets (now valued at more than $70 million) to UT Southwestern to enable the Dallas medical center to establish major new programs in Tarrant County.

Dr. Wildenthal’s most ambitious fundraising program was announced in 2002 with the Innovations in Medicine campaign, which set out to raise $500 million for research and treatment of major diseases for which breakthroughs could be possible over the next few years and decades. As in his previous undertakings, he once again far exceeded the original goal. Already, the campaign has passed the $630 million mark — including three $50 million gifts from an anonymous donor, the Harold C. Simmons Foundation and the T. Boone Pickens Foundation — and he expects more to come by the time the campaign concludes on Dec. 31, 2007.

Dr. and Mrs. Wildenthal have also been donors to the medical center themselves, giving more than $1 million over the years, with more than half earmarked specifically to cover donor appreciation and entertainment expenses, which are crucially important  components of institutional fundraising and community activities, but for which other sources of funds are often unavailable.

A special source of pride to Dr. Wildenthal is that UT Southwestern falls in the very bottom rank of all major universities and medical centers in terms of fundraising expenses as a percentage of gifts received: Costs associated with raising funds and acknowledging gifts are less than 3 cents for every dollar raised.

In addition to administrative efficiency, a hallmark of Dr. Wildenthal’s tenure has been an ability to identify future needs and to find solutions for them, according to Mr. Solomon. “Kern can see all sides of a situation — the professional, the personal, the scientific and medical, the analytical and the economic,” he said.

Mr. Bass calls Dr. Wildenthal “a man who combines creative vision with practical determination.  He knows how to look ahead.  He understands what the needs of the institution and the community will be. He will always develop a plan to do it, and he will get it done.”

Another constant during Dr. Wildenthal’s tenure has been integrity.  “Whether you agree or disagree with Kern, his honesty and integrity are unquestionable,” said Mr. Bass.  “What he says is what he means, and you get what you hear.  The fact that people trust him, trust his judgment, and trust his word — I think that is a critical part of his success.

“He has very high standards and superb taste in terms of what he wants this place to be. He has a desire for us to be the best in the world and best-known in the world.”

Dr. Wildenthal said, “All of UT Southwestern’s progress — the stellar faculty and staff, the outstanding student body, the buildings, the medical breakthroughs, the lives saved — would not have been possible without major private philanthropy to supplement the important support we receive from the government.

“I hope that the extraordinarily generous private citizens of Dallas and our entire region, as well as our government leaders, feel gratified that their investments in UT Southwestern have been worthwhile. Their farsightedness and generosity are greatly appreciated by all of us at the medical center, for we simply could not have succeeded without their help.

“When Marnie and I decided last year that, after 22 years, 2008 would be the right date for me to retire as president, one of the principal reasons I was sure that this would be an especially good time was the total confidence I have in our entire leadership team. There is no better academic and administrative executive group in the country. Under the new president, they will continue to ensure that UT Southwestern is at the pinnacle of the nation’s academic medical centers.

“It has been a great privilege to be part of UT Southwestern’s administration for the past three decades and to be able to participate in the institution’s progress. I inherited a wonderful base to start from, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many fantastic people at the medical center, in the community, at the UT System, and in government.

“I think that together we have achieved a pretty good track record, but the race is never over; you just pass the baton.”


Media Contacts: Heidi Cannella

John Walls

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