Needed: The Pros From Dover

Needed: The Pros From Dover

By

Leonard Zwelling

            The
Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt, was seen by many, as a hopeful sign for
democracy in the Arab world. A year later, the demonstrators are back in Tahrir
Square in Cairo clamoring for and getting the ouster of the duly elected
President Morsi, who, because of his inexperience and allegiance to the Muslim
Brotherhood, has not delivered on the promises he made to get elected. It
appears that Egypt’s first democratically elected leader cannot lead or at
least cannot do so in a democracy. He seemed to be stuck in his old ways.

            The
reports coming from Cairo are eerily reminiscent of the closing scenes of
Lawrence of Arabia (1962, multiple Oscar winner including Best Picture) when
the Bedouin tribes that Lawrence led into Damascus have to retreat to the
desert because they cannot make a modern city work without fighting among
themselves as they had for years and for the first three hours of this epic film.

            The
common thread here is that when it comes to running a complex organization and
particularly when trying to take that organization in a new direction, amateurs
need not apply for leadership positions. And if they do, they must be ready to
leave old habits behind for the small constituency they once led is about to
expand dramatically. Unfortunately, that sort of successful leadership growth
is unusual.  More than likely, the
new guys will screw it up.

            What
is needed in times of change are the “pros from Dover”, a phrase most notably
used in Robert Altman’s Mash as Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland dub
themselves as they wait to repair an infant’s tracheo-esophageal fistula and
still make it to the golf course after operating in their spikes.

            In
2011, MD Anderson really needed the Pros from Dover. But…

            It
is evident that the Board of Regents, the Chancellor and the Executive Vice
Chancellor all wanted to take MD Anderson in a new direction when they replaced
John Mendelsohn. Dr. Mendelsohn came with the promise of upgrading the basic
sciences and “raising the bar” on laboratory based research, but really had not
done so. Once he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar—twice—Enron and
ImClone, he retreated to a strategy of raising capital funds and building
edifices that eventually got us into fiscal difficulties due to the high fixed
costs he incurred combined with the downturn in the stock market in 2008
threatening our financial well-being. 
(No Virginia, it wasn’t a hurricane).

            The
clinicians pulled him out. Hell they saved the place!

            But
when the time came for a new President, those selecting him (was there ever
even a chance it could be a her?) went in a very different direction. They
chose an inexperienced, non-oncologist, laboratory-based Harvard professor with
little administrative chops and then allowed him to take the UT System to the
cleaners, while enriching himself, hiring his wife, and possibly confusing the
markets with statements about his drug company when he was appearing on
national television as the MD Anderson President (see the post on this blog
from July 3 on the shareholders suit against Aveo).

            So
now what do we do?

            There
is very little that WE can do. We didn’t choose him. We didn’t vote for him and
we certainly have no fiduciary responsibility to the people of Texas beyond
doing our jobs, whether that is research, teaching or patient care, in terms of
altering the leadership of MD Anderson. This is not even Egypt when it comes to
being a democracy.

           

            The
latest suggestion that we have some sort of vote of no confidence seems totally
redundant given the results of survey after survey of low faculty satisfaction
with the executive leadership. The Board of Regents members seem disinclined to
admit to the error that they have made. The Division Heads have done nothing.
How can they? When they try, he shoots one of them. The department chairs can’t
do anything. Why would they? All the new ones have the money from the
President. The old ones are just waiting as if on a stay of execution.

            Welcome
to amateur night at MD Anderson. I guess we could protest like we were in Egypt.
Personally, I am going to slink into the desert like a Bedouin. After all, for
a pro from Dover, a sand trap is a minimal obstacle.

            If
you have better ideas, please forward them to your senators or to me at the
usual locations. I would be happy to introduce a constructive solution at the
Senate, if have one.

            

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