Why More MD Anderson Executives Need To Go: The Struggle For A New Direction


Leonard Zwelling

By any measure, MD Anderson is in limbo.

I believe the institution has been struggling for 15 years trying to reconcile some awful behavior on the part of its leaders with the core values of Discovery, Caring and particularly Integrity. This has been made very difficult by indecisive or misguided leadership from Austin, aging and slow leadership in Houston, no local board of oversight, a Board of Visitors that enables bad behavior, and finally frankly mendacious and rapacious leadership willing to compromise the most minimal of ethical standards for self-dealing and conflicted goals. This is not a formula for success and partly explains getting into a war of lawsuits with a sister cancer center in Ohio over slogans of almost no meaning. I understand that the Ohio State group filed the first suit, but once they backed off, why not just share? After all, both centers have one goal—ending cancer. Could it have something to do with MD Anderson’s sister institution in Columbus?

To be frank, there simply is too much bad stuff lying around in the halls of MD Anderson to forego a clean up any longer.

Those people who enabled the last president to wreck havoc on the institution must be replaced by new blood. There are even leftovers from the last president to putatively step down of his own accord (if you believe that one, clap). They too must be gone.

Drs. Hicks and Hahn need a clear field on which to steer MD Anderson in a new direction, preferably one more like the one it was on in the 1990s following the lifting of the referral mandate.

Drs. Hicks and Hahn also need to resolve what I detect is great confusion about who is in charge of what.

If Dr. Hahn is the COO, what is Dr. Buchholz needed for? With all those department chairs and Division Heads, is a Provost really required? And who is the Chief Financial Officer? If it is Mr. Fontaine, the $500 million loss must be blamed on him to some extent. Even if this was all done under Dr. DePinho’s direction, shouldn’t those responsible for carrying out his orders and crippling MD Anderson be forced to find employment elsewhere?

I think so.

I understand that there are high-powered outside consultants working with the Shared Governance Committee, aka the Group of Holdovers. Perhaps replacing most of those leaders should come first and working with the skill sets of the new people be made a priority.

I do not see how any amount of social work can heal the trust between the Group of Holdovers and the faculty. Besides, most faculty members do not really have representation on the Group of Holdovers.

A better choice would be for Drs. Hicks and Hahn to reach into the ranks of the current faculty and assign these leadership jobs to new people with the understanding that once a new president is named, the newly appointed might return to their current roles.

This would serve to clear the air of an atmosphere that has clouded MD Anderson for far too long now. The place really does need a house cleaning and a fresh start. Soon.

Leonard Zwelling