Denying The Up Side of Apologies


Leonard Zwelling

            You gotta
love that Paul Goldberg.

            In the
Cancer Letter of September 27 reporting on the recent series of faculty
meetings at Anderson with the Chancellor and the local leadership team, his
headline reads “DePinho Takes Responsibility, Apologizes for ‘Morale Issues’”.

            This is
juxtaposed with a report on another major loss for Anderson as James
Abbruzzese, a faculty member for 27 years and a department chair for many of
those years, departs for Duke as a division director within the Department of
Medicine there and associate director of clinical research at the Duke Cancer
Institute. The irony cannot be lost on anyone familiar with the events at
Anderson that the departure of a stalwart member of the clinical leadership
team accompanies the decline in morale. However, as a Duke medical alumnus, I
congratulate Duke on a great catch.

            But what
exactly is Dr. DePinho apologizing for and taking responsibility for? I was
present at the Chancellor’s meeting and the follow-up Monday afternoon session
that Dr. DePinho led himself and I have no idea. This is unfortunate for a
mindful approach to apologies can be both restorative and educational.

Usually when you say you are sorry
it is because of something unfortunate that you did or said. You acknowledge
what you are apologizing for. DePinho’s rather empty and half-hearted attempt
at leadership through false humility is mystifying. Even more confusing is the
direction he proposes to take to correct what ever it is he thinks he did wrong.
Or is he just mouthing the words with no insight into what he did and thus
missing a teachable moment?

What was even more shocking was his
maintenance of his characteristic combative stance calling any adverse press
about the adverse morale issues an “unwarranted assault”.

            I don’t get

            Either you
made a mistake or several, are apologizing for it (or them) after admitting
what you thought you did wrong, and then outline how things will change
indicating your growth through the insight and contrition. OR you attack.
DePinho didn’t really do the first and surely did the second, his usual approach
to bad news. He blamed someone else.

went on to object to the criticism voiced by several senior clinical faculty
members that patient safety was being jeopardized by the increased volumes of
work he was asking the clinical faculty to do to keep up with his profligate
spending. The fact that an article from a Houston Chronicle reporter who was openly sitting in the
audience during the Chancellor’s meeting and accurately reported on what was
said is NOT an “unwarranted assault”. It’s called reporting.

            DePinho referred
to the concerns expressed about patient safety as baseless, essentially calling
his front line senior faculty liars. He goes on to exhibit some degree of
paranoia when he says in a memo, “this is a concentrated effort by some who
have chosen to harm the reputation of MD Anderson, and I am committed to
continuing and accelerating productive dialogue with our devoted faculty”. Hey,
is he apologizing or not? Has he learned anything? Has he taken responsibility
for any of this really?

faculty is trying to tell you, Dr. DePinho, that you are sitting on a powder

            So in an
effort to clear the air, may I humbly suggest from outside the walls of the
Anderson that the President try something new.

If you are going to apologize, please let us
know what you are apologizing for.

Please explain what happened that caused the
mistakes. Were you misled? Were you given bad advice? Or did you mess up all by
yourself? What did you learn about MD Anderson and about yourself in the

What are you going to do to make sure you don’t
make the same mistakes again?

If others were involved with your errors who
were they and will you hold them accountable?

Finally, how do you connect your errors with the
poor morale and what will you personally do to reverse this trend that has
caused a series of major personnel losses to the institution, the most recent
of which was reported in the same issue of the Cancer Letter as disclosed your
unlisted apologies (and there was another departure reported in the next issue
of the CL).

In other words, what are YOU
prepared to do Mr. Ness?

(from Brian DePalma’s The


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