“The Letter”: Six Months Later-Thought Leaders or Thought
Followers?

By

Leonard Zwelling

            In
the February 1, 2013 issue of the Cancer Letter, Paul Goldberg and his staff
published in its entirety, a letter signed by many leaders of the MD Anderson
faculty in response to a less than flattering article that had appeared two
weeks before in this publication. The letter said the original article was
inaccurate, but was not specific as to what the Cancer Letter had published
that was inaccurate. The letter went on to comment that the Cancer Letter
expressed a “pre-determined image” of MD Anderson and that the signatories were
“proud of the leadership” of MD Anderson.

            The
letter also expressed an opinion that it was a “small minority” of the faculty
who were displeased with the direction of the institution and that criticism
taken directly to media outlets, instead of to these faculty leaders, was
creating “unwarranted fear”. Furthermore the challenges faced by MD Anderson
were “not unique to our institution”.

            My
question now, some 6 months after the letter was written, signed and published,
is a simple one. Would these putative thought leaders sign this letter today?

            Either
the MD Anderson institutional leadership in which they expressed such pride has
indeed improved the morale and the general tenor of business at Anderson or
they have not. Which is it?

            Speaking
as an erstwhile faculty leader about to retire and as a member of the Faculty
Senate which has recently completed another straw poll that shows no
improvement over the one taken last year in faculty morale, I sure hope these
thought leaders who acted instead like thought followers might reconsider what
they signed onto.

            Then
again, if some of them were really thought leaders instead of thought
followers, they might not have signed the letter in the first place. Some
leaders at MD Anderson most pointedly did not sign the letter that was largely
written by a very few of the signatories who then gave the others a choice of
signing or not doing so rather than discussing the wisdom of the strategy or
the wording among themselves.

            The
latest survey, though very informal, suggests that nothing has changed. Since
the February 1 letter, SofaGate, the FDA refusal to approve the Aveo drug and
an SEC investigation of Aveo itself have added to the woes of the executives at
MD Anderson.

            If
it’s a lack of distractions these faculty leaders were looking to initiate with
this letter, the leadership of the MD Anderson has hardly cooperated. The
latest report that data MD Anderson sent to the federal government and which
was used to rank the cancer centers by US News and World Report was erroneous
won’t allay any fears or instill any confidence although in all fairness, this
occurred under the last administration. Of course, the senior leadership in
charge of administration and finance then and who presumably made the reporting
error, may still be on the job at Anderson to this day.

            So
again, I ask, six months down the line, would those thought leaders at Anderson
still sign that letter? 

Leonard Zwelling