If You Don’t’ Stand For Something                                                                        February
22, 2013

By Leonard Zwelling

                  We
all came from somewhere. Although most current Americans were born in the USA,
all of us can trace our ancestry back to people who were not except American
Indians. Thus, almost all of us or at least our genes, came from somewhere
else.

                  Our
families came here for a variety of reasons. Some were brought here against
their will. Some were fleeing religious or political persecution. Some were
starving. All were entering a new life in a new place with new rules, usually
written by others. All were going to try to prosper.

                  At
MD Anderson, a hospital without an obstetrics unit, none of us was born here.
We all came from somewhere else and much as our ancestors who came to America,
we all were seeking better lives. Some wanted a place to care for many unusual
patients. Some wanted to use the latest technology and therapeutics to improve
the lives of cancer patients. Some wanted to do laboratory-based research to
unearth the secrets of cancer biology. Some wanted to do community- and
population-based research to alter the incidence of cancer deaths via
prevention strategies. All wanted to educate others and work with stimulating
colleagues.

                  In
many of my discussions with colleagues young and old, I hear a recurrent theme.
“I am not interested in politics. I just want to get back to do the work I came
here to do”.

And I hear you. Unfortunately, that
is not a real option for you any more than it was for your ancestors as they stepped
off boats in New York, Baltimore and Galveston. Either they could just do their
work and let others dictate the rules or they could do their work AND
participate in the great political experiment called the United States of
America.

                  At
MD Anderson, faculty participation in shared governance had been a reality for
many years. It is no longer.

                  The
degree to which the average faculty member determines his or her work
environment is minimal at best. Many functions that used to be faculty run and
thus accountable to other faculty have gradually migrated to classified
personnel under the control of Executive Vice Presidents with little if any
knowledge of the work, people or processes they purport to support. And we, the
faculty, have helped this occur with that attitude of “just let me do my work
and go home and play with my kids”.

                  All
of us live in a political world. Those wishing to hide from politics or not
participate in politics will ultimately serve the purposes of those who do engage
in the political process. Where would we be as a nation if the attitudes that
prevailed when each wave of new immigrants came to these foreign shores was a
passive drive to just work and not participate politically. Do you really think
women would be voting, Annise Parker would be our mayor or Barack Obama would
be President? I think not. They and others fought for their rights not instead
of their jobs but in addition to their jobs. Some, like Martin Luther King,
even made the fight for equality and a seat at the table their jobs and paid
for it with their lives.

                  I
understand that many of you just want to do your work. You don’t want to get
involved.  Politics is not your
thing. But I will leave you with this:

                  “If
you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.

                  Please
get involved. Speak up. Come to the Senate meetings. Run for the Senate.
Participate actively in your departmental and divisional meetings and insist
that these take place with regular agendas and clear follow-up from your
leaders.

                  And
Faculty Senate: Your ability to represent the faculty depends upon constant
communication with your constituents. Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate
members should be at every divisional and departmental meeting. The ECFS should
be developing a weekly message that is consistent and reflects the concerns of
the faculty. If the Senate is to represent the faculty, the faculty has to
believe the Senate truly speaks for it. Without regular and continuous
communication with the faculty, how will the ECFS know what the faculty’s major
concerns are? Without the belief of all that the ECFS represents the faculty,
why should the administration share governance with them?

                  Hold
each other accountable and you will all be pulling in the same direction. If no
one is accountable, the mistakes are no one’s fault and undoubtedly will be
made again and the good ship MD Anderson will be rowing in a long, lazy circle
getting nowhere.

                  You
are all part of the institutional memory. You are all part of the MD Anderson
DNA. If you want MD Anderson around tomorrow (unless you feel by then we will
have cured cancer), I suggest you get working today.

                  Don’t
do it for me. Do it for your grandparents and your grandchildren. It’s the
American way and it used to be that way at Anderson. It can be again!

1 thought on “”

  1. Len- Very thought-provoking, especially for nontenured, nonclinical faculty like me! But honestly, I want MD Anderson to be around long after I'm gone, and for that to happen we need to cure our addiction to spending, and I'd rather help MD Anderson by being layed off than than hurt it by hanging around when there isn't any money to pay me. As for 1MC, which you discuss in another blog, "the ship" evokes more memories of The Titanic than of the Queen Mary, and our addiction to spending evokes images of icebergs that could sink the ship. I was at Baylor when they tore down the old Parkwood aptmts and built the big, new hospital/clinic on OST. They ran out of money before they finished the project and Baylor nearly went bankrupt. The building is still empty, a ghost-like reminder of what happens when leaders develop The Edifice Complex. Baylor is still slowly climbing out from under that spending disaster. So I left Baylor and took a job at MDACC about the time we started building "the ship," and it was deja vu all over again. Fortunately MDACC has more money in the bank, but if we keep building and spending . . . A grand, new aircraft carrier of a building for the administration sends all the wrong messages to our hard-working clinical faculty and staff, especially when we use an image of that building on posters, etc. as a symbol of MD Anderson. I realize we need space for our administrative support departments, and I don't think "the ship" would evoke such negative image if it were a "one and done" type of thing (to switch to March Madness imagery), but the fact is that "the ship" has come to represent an endemic addiction to spending that is not sustainable.

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