Focus

By

Leonard Zwelling

         In this morning’s Houston Chronicle (July 17), Todd Ackerman
reports that the American Association of University Professors will launch an
investigation into the tenure dispute surrounding two Anderson faculty members that
has roiled the waters at Anderson for months.

         Let’s hope everyone can keep his or her focus on the issue
and not the many side issues that undoubtedly will arise:

1.  MD Anderson has had 7-year term tenure system
throughout its existence as far as I am aware. When I came to Anderson 30 years
ago this month, I was quite cognizant that lifetime tenure was not a benefit of
a productive and protracted period of research years. I hope the AUP does not
seek to address the fairness of this system for frankly, it really is none of
its business. Every single faculty member who ever signed a contract at
Anderson, whether originally term-tenured or not, knew the rules. If obtaining
lifetime tenure was a critical professional goal of the individual, MD Anderson
should not be the locale of that individual’s career in biomedicine.

2.  The respondents (“MD Anderson officials”) from
Anderson were correctly quoted in the article I am sure. They believe this
system is what is best for the Anderson community and it is not a secret kept
from anyone signing up to work at 1515.

3.  The real question is whether or not the system is
being implemented fairly and uniformly. Are all candidates nominated for
promotion and tenure renewal by their department and Division leadership given
equal consideration by the Promotion and Tenure Committee and then by the
president who has final say? Do some less than stellar individuals make it
through the process successfully due to pressure being asserted on the system
by executive leadership?

I
have been impressed over the first 3 years of the DePinho presidency that
institution-wide debates have often become unfocused. The CPRIT affair was
about power and its abuse as well as the subverting of internal process for the
convenience of the executive leadership. Ditto the nepotism, self-dealing on
CNBC and major conflicts-of-interest on the part of executive leadership.

These
should have been the focus of the attention of the Regents, but clearly, as
suggested by Ken Shine during one of his last visits to Anderson as Executive
Vice Chancellor, that was all stuff DePinho got a pass on. Why does he get a
pass when the rest of the faculty do not? It is absolutely imperative that
executives, faculty and all personnel play by the same rules when legal and
quasi-legal issues like conflict of interest arise. No double standard, for
that only undermines the credibility of the leadership and will greatly
interfere with organizational success.

It
has seemed that since September of 2011 the motto has been:  “if the president does it, it is not illegal.”
(This didn’t help Nixon either).

Well,
we are back there again. If the debate continues about the academic fairness of
term-tenure without lifetime tenure, we all will have been tossed down another
rat hole of irrelevance. Or worse, jumped down.

Stick
to the facts. Were some faculty members granted privileges and/or term tenure
not because of their performance but because of who they knew and were others denied
the same despite being fully qualified to receive new, extended renewal
contracts? If any of this is true, why? And perhaps most importantly, if it is
true, why has the faculty (save for Dr. Boyd) pretty much given up on
correcting this unfairness?

People
let’s focus! Stay on task!

Leonard Zwelling