Oversight: The Best Weapon Against Mischief, Crime, and Discrimination

By

Leonard Zwelling

Everyone needs a boss, a set of extra eyes and ears–oversight.

There is a major wrestling match occurring even as we speak between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government as to how much oversight the Congress can exert over the president. Many House committees want to hear from the various players named in the Mueller Report and in fact from Mr. Mueller himself as to what he really found and whether or not the actions ascribed to the President of the United States and his minions constitute obstruction of justice. Mr. Barr, the Attorney General, a minion if there ever was one, is already on record saying they don’t. Many in Congress think they do and some even think they constitute impeachable offenses. The only way to find out is to have the players interviewed by the appropriate committees in Congress, both House and Senate. The latter is reluctant to do anything as they are in Mr. Trump’s pocket. I have no idea where Mitt Romney or Rand Paul are in all of this, but you would think they would like to get to the bottom of whether or not the President of the United States committed crimes, but apparently they don’t care to exercise their oversight function. The House Democrats do and they ought to.

The executive branch will not play ball easily. They will continue to obstruct and claim the report exonerates the president. It doesn’t. In fact, it raises more questions than it answers and thus requires the additional investigation in the House. It will happen, but there may yet be a years-long court fight about subpoenas and documents and redactions before this is all over. That’s the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers established and it is working its way through to working.

Not so at MD Anderson.

There is no check on presidential power at Anderson. There is no legislative body and there is no knowledgeable board. There is only the Board of Regents in Austin which seems to have a vested interest in quiet rather than in justice given the way it handled the Mendelsohn issues of conflict of interest, the DePinho issues of conflict, self-dealing, and nepotism, and the current crisis that appears to be discrimination against faculty members of Chinese descent under the new MD Anderson president.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/04/us-universities-reassess-collaborations-foreign-scientists-wake-nih-letters

This becomes very obvious when the manner in which Baylor College of Medicine handled the letters from the NIH with regard to the “Chinese threat” is compared with the way MD Anderson did. As far as I can tell, no one was fired at Baylor. At MD Anderson several faculty members have left—some quite prominent—and more have been fired despite an absence of any criminal charges at all.

There simply is no one with past experience dealing with the federal government overseeing or advising the leaders of Anderson. All of those folks are gone. Instead, the mantra of the leadership is that they are cooperating with the FBI and responding to the NIH in protection of their $148M in federal grants. But no amount of money is worth the fear that is permeating the faculty body at Anderson now. That fear may be limited to a smallish group—the Chinese. But that’s only for now. Who’s next? And, by the way, isn’t that $148M down from previous years? What’s that about? CPRIT funding supplanting RO1s? Or is the quality of grant application from Anderson falling due to the egress of quality faculty including Chinese faculty?

It was always going to be critical that a new president of Anderson form his or her own leadership team of high quality individuals to make his or her vision real. That’s going to be hard when all the positions save one are filled by internal people.

There’s no board at Anderson and no oversight of the leaders. The Faculty Senate refuses to play that role or, worse, is being kept in the dark. How much were they aware of the FBI’s actions on campus?

I have personally advised the new president to form a board of real advisors for himself. (The Board of Visitors is the boosters club and not really savvy in the ways of academia, medicine or science). As with most of the advice I offered him, he ignored it. Too bad. Now he’s on his own defending the manner in which his administration dealt with the latest challenge by the federal government. It seems the other members of the 55 universities who got letters from the NIH have handled this a lot differently, including Baylor.

Finally, as an addendum, even newspaper people need oversight. Clearly their editors are not sufficient.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/28/opinion/cartoon-nytimes.html

https://fxn.ws/2L9xrRD

Bret Stephens (The NY Times, April 29) noted how a seriously anti-Semitic cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a Star of David tagged guide dog leading a yarmulke wearing blind President Trump made it into the international edition of the NY Times. The paper has issued an apology, but as Stephens points out, this is another in a long line of offenses against Jews committed by a newspaper that seems to conflate Zionism with Judaism. They aren’t the same. According to a close friend, the Times did it again a few days later (second link).

Everyone needs a boss. President Trump, President Pisters, and The New York Times. Without them, bad things happen. No matter the room, someone has to be the adult in it or it turns into a site for a food fight.

Leonard Zwelling