The Chancellor’s Assembly: Politics-Good to Great

By

Leonard Zwelling

            I’ve been
depressed since I got out of my seat in the Hickey at the conclusion of this
“event” today. The Chancellor came to MD Anderson with the ex- and current
Executive Vice Chancellors to meet with the faculty and hear concerns that have
arisen among those faculty members with regard to morale, patient care, patient
safety and finances.

            The room
was full and Faculty Chair Ann Killary asked that the room be cleared of all
non-faculty as this was not an “open” meeting. My sources tell me this did not
occur and that members of the press, later to be criticized by Dr. Shine, were
present during the meeting.

            Let’s start
with some good things.

            First, I
thought Dr. Killary did a magnificent job running the meeting, keeping it
focused and raising every issue she could in the limited time available to her.
Kudos to her and the rest of the Senate, especially Dr. Legerski who presented
the results of yet another faculty survey that showed that the clinical faculty
believes care is deteriorating, as is our reputation, patient safety, morale
and the degree to which the faculty believes the institution’s finances are
being handled in a secure fashion. I guess that’s three surveys in a row where
the faculty gave the leadership an F or no more than a D. This survey had a 60%
response in only 5 days which is really quite impressive!

            Second, the
faculty, (and let’s tip an OR cap to the surgeons) did a terrific job of
expressing these concerns as well. So the Senate and the Faculty came off
great. That, unfortunately, is the end of the good news.

            A really
good politician usually has to talk a lot and say nothing. A great one does
those things, but also makes you feel that he heard you—what Bill Clinton
called “feeling your pain”. It is safe to say that the three members of the
highest levels of the UT System may be good politicians, but none of them
exhibited any greatness today.

            While the
Chancellor repeatedly expressed his concern about what he heard and constantly
turned the questions he was asked back on the questioner, what he did not say
was far louder.

            He
committed to nothing. He did not pledge to examine the concerns expressed by
faculty or the survey, He did not pledge to hold Dr. DePinho accountable for
producing a plan to address these concerns in some reasonable amount of time.
He pledged no support from his office to help with these issues. In other
words, when we couldn’t hear what he had to say because he couldn’t seem to
master the use of the microphone, it turned out that we heard nothing because
nothing of substance was said. In no way did the Chancellor make me feel like
he had worked to understand the problems before he showed up nor pledged to do
so afterwards.

            Dr. Shine
was defiant to the end, and now beyond as he is no longer the EVC. He blamed the
media for writing stories conveying events as they occurred. That’s what the
media is supposed to do and there is no way the Cancer Letter or the Chronicle
could make the behavior of the DePinhos any worse than they did all by
themselves. It was an insult to suggest that people in the room were somehow
responsible for the lousy press coverage garnered by the King and Queen of MD
Anderson.

            Then,
though he did not name me, Dr. Shine took a shot at me for being the faculty
member to criticize the lack of adherence to our own conflict of interest
policy by the DePInhos. Damned right. If they had followed our policy, last
week’s articles could not have been written and no one believes that Dr. DePinho
couldn’t have known about the lousy trial results of his drug before going on
television. What the hell was he doing on TV anyway? He was supposed to be
there to discuss ASCO, not his drug. And we are really to believe that results
known to the Aveo scientific board (including Dr. Chin) 11 days before were not conveyed to one of
the company’s founders? Give me a break. That doesn’t even pass the smell test.

            To cap off
his display of hubris, Dr. Shine hit us with “no margin, no mission” the
favorite saying of the apologists for the bean counters and green eye shade
wearers. What has MD Anderson come to that we have to grovel in
rationalizations about paying the bills to excuse our leadership’s poor judgment and poorer behavior?

            Let’s give
Dr. Greenberg a pass. He just showed up and for that, as Woody Allen would say,
he gets credit.

            I walked
away depressed because despite the best effort of Dr. Killary and many of the
faculty to raise the key issues, no answers were forthcoming and no promises
made to get those answers to us. Furthermore, I didn’t even hear any
acknowledgement that we have a unique set of problems here.

            So let me
try one more time:

            Dr.
Cigarroa:

1.    
Do you still believe that Ronald DePinho has
exhibited those leadership characteristics that would allow you to back unconditionally
his continued service as the MD Anderson President? Yes or No.

2.    
If yes, given his multiple ethical failings,
well documented in the press, how will you and the Board of Regents oversee
his continued presidency so as to minimize any further embarrassing fall-out from
his behavior? Ditto that of his wife.

3.    
If no, when will you make the change?

4.    
Do you still believe that the clinical operation
of MD Anderson is the best it could be and that patient safety and the quality
of care have not been compromised due to faulty management decisions as
indicated by the results of the most recent faculty survey? If yes, why do you
believe that? If no, what are you going to do to address the concerns expressed
by the best cancer fighting faculty on Earth in that survey?

5.    
Would you be willing to bring a team of external
auditors into MD Anderson and completely examine its finances, clinical
operations and quality outcomes, research funding and salary structures to
provide a report to the Board of Regents in 90 days that summarizes the first
two years of the DePinho presidency? If not, why not? If yes, please hurry.

The time is long overdue for a
transparent vetting of the situation on the ground at Anderson. It was fully
evident from the Chancellor’s responses that he is unaware or unfamiliar or
uncaring as to this situation. How could he have come here having done so
little homework as to the cause of the meeting itself? Or, was he fully aware
of this awful morale and clinical situation but he himself was placed on a very
short leash by his bosses on the Board of Regents who still cannot come to
grips with the awful decision they made two years ago and the absolutely
predictable outcome that we are all living through.

Why don’t they feel our pain? As
anyone there in the Hickey was acutely aware, pain was the sound in the air!

Leonard Zwelling