Get It Back!

By

Leonard Zwelling

            Readers
of this blog know that my favorite television series is HBO’s The Newsroom. It
is in its second season now and the plot this year revolves around a very big
story that the CNN-like network got very wrong. The details of what they got
wrong were laid out in last Sunday’s episode (Aug 25). Why they got it wrong is
not the subject I wish to address. It’s what they are going to do next.

            At
the end of the episode, the owner of the network played by Jane Fonda ex-wife
of the real owner of CNN refuses to accept the resignations of the heads of the
program on which the false story was broadcast. Furthermore, the lawsuit against
the network that ensued will not be settled by Fonda, as glamorous in this part
as she is in real-life. Besides, she says, “I have some kick-ass court room
outfits”.

            Sam
Waterston who plays the head of the news division insists that his team must
all resign because they have lost the trust of the public. Fonda’s character
hears this and shouts in exasperation with him, “Get It Back!” (cut to black).

            For
many years now over several shameful episodes, MD Anderson has weathered a
series of stories about its leadership that has taxed the public’s trust.
Somehow, we have persevered. Mainly it’s because our clinical faculty and staff
keep up their first-rate care despite the scandals swirling around them for
those scandals are surely not of their making. Here we go again.

            The
latest iteration of the MD Anderson Presidency of Questionable Ethics has once
again challenged the public’s trust in us, but more importantly the faculty’s
trust in its own leadership and in the people in Austin to whom that leadership
putatively reports. As much as a television news network needs the trust of its
viewers to survive, the leadership of an academic cancer center needs to be
trusted by its faculty and staff to maximize operational efficiency and
academic productivity, let alone provide the best patient care.

            In
short, we ain’t there on all fronts.

            Jane
Fonda commanded those who lost the public’s trust to “get it back”. Dr. Shine
did the same with Dr. DePinho in urging him to patch things up with the faculty
after multiple complaints and the results of the first Faculty Senate morale survey.
This has not occurred as the latest Faculty Senate survey published by the
Houston Chronicle shows. Now what?

            I
will be tuning in to HBO on September 8 to find out if and how the news
department of Fonda’s CNN-look alike network gains back the public’s trust. I
have no insight, but if I can predict the strain of most of Aaron Sorkin’s
writing, it will start with the network issuing an apology, a pledge to do
better and a big dose of eating crow. I bet they have a documentary special
laying out of all their own mistakes and how they will be building in safe
guards to prevent them in the future. Whether my prediction is correct or not,
that might be a good strategy for the DePinho team to try.

1.     We
made these decisions.

2.     They
were wrong for the following reasons.

3.     Here’s
what we should have done and will do now.

4.     Here’s
how we will try to do it better.

5.     And,
oh yes, we are really sorry about this.

6.     And
if it turns out that one or several particular people in the DePinho
administration acted in a criminal or unethical manner, that person or persons
should be removed. Those who made honest mistakes of judgment can be readily
excused. We all do that. Those who maliciously harmed others or who let others
do so when they should have known better and spoken up, have not earned the
same leniency in my judgment.

            However,
my judgment is not the one that counts. This is up to DePinho or Cigarroa or
Greenberg. And, if need be, the Board of Regents.

            Quantifying
that the trust of the faculty has not been gotten back, is really a useless
drill by the Senate. The leadership had done nothing to identify the causes of
the poor results of the earlier survey so why should things have gotten better?

            Including
the faculty in designing a way for the entire institution to flourish in an
environment of mutual trust would be an excellent first step. Trust me. The
best way to get trust back is to exhibit some yourself.

Leonard Zwelling