The Danger Of Cliques

By

Leonard Zwelling

When I began my lab training at the National Cancer Institute, I had a friend. He had recruited me into the lab in which he was working because he understood my research question could be better addressed by the technology developed by the leader of the lab he had selected. He was absolutely correct. My first experiment worked and my career in the lab began thanks to him. He was a smart cookie. He still is.

One thing this friend taught me came up in a discussion of future plans he and I were having. I had none. He did.

He was going to parlay his NCI fellowship and research experience into a faculty position in an academic department of oncology and launch his successful career as a physician-scientist. He did just that. I told you he was smart.

In the course of the discussion about career plans he said something very profound. He said to me, “I just want to be part of the club.”

I didn’t know what he meant then. I do now because both of us joined the same club. We were the young investigators who leveraged an MD degree into a faculty position at a major medical research institution, got NIH grants, wrote papers, saw patients (a bit) and generally pursued the life of academia until we got off that path and onto the administrative one as a dean or vice president. We both did it, too. I think he did it far more consciously than I did as he planned it. It just kind of happened to me. Either way, we had the same business associates who reviewed our papers and grants and invited us to their campuses to give talks and had drinks with one another at various national meetings for 20 years. We were in a clique. We made good money. We led good lives. We were the fortunate ones.

I was reminded of all of this while reading the New York Times’ Book Review section on Sunday, July 9. James Kwak reviewed a new book called The Chickens—t Club by Jesse Eisinger about the failure of the Justice Department to prosecute white collar criminals, especially those involved with the financial collapse of 2008.

What this book is really about is, in fact, justice. Why is it that the justice system treats street criminals so harshly and Wall Street criminals so leniently? The answer may be that the Wall Streeters and the prosecutorial Attorneys General are all in the same club.

This is really about American corruption at the highest levels of government and income and explains to a large extent why middle America is fed up with its government, trusts no one in Congress, and elected Donald Trump to the White House. Makes sense to me. Essentially, many Americans, most of whom follow the rules and play fair with their taxes and finances, resent the fact that the rich guys got away with wrecking the system and then walking away with their money. Many of the privileged are still in charge of the same organizations that they were in 2008 and some of those organizations (investment banks) are bigger than ever.

In an effort to assure such resentment does not poison the early days of the new president of MD Anderson, I would like to make a suggestion with regard to all of those who enabled the DePinho Reign of Terror to last as long as it did. Fire them!

I maintain that only through resignations or dismissals of all of the current department chairs, division heads and vice presidents of all stripes, some of whose resignation may not be accepted, will the DePinho years be successfully left behind as they need to be. These people enabled DePinho and getting rid of just three is not enough.

Soon enough there will be a new sheriff in town. It will be a happier town if those who so poorly ran it for six years were back doing their faculty work and not in positions of authority. Better yet, they should move to another town. There are some striking exceptions of highly-regarded, productive, honest and honestly good people whose help will be needed for future success. The current acting president and COO are two who need to find places in the leadership of the new MD Anderson if neither is the president-select.

The FORDs need to be traded in. It would be a lot easier for the new president, no matter who he or she is, if they were traded in now, creating a clean slate on which the new leadership can sketch his or her vision of the future.

Leonard Zwelling