MD ANDERSON FACULTY: MORE LIKE UKRAINE OR US?

Is the MD Anderson Faculty
More Like the Ukraine or the US?

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Previously, I have written about the option for civil
disobedience on the part of the MD Anderson faculty as a way to gain some
purchase with regard to the administration’s tight hold over the institution.
My ideas have gone for naught—as I expected. I am very fond of saying that the
signers of the Declaration of Independence put their “John Hancocks” on a
document that ended with “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our
Fortunes and our sacred Honor” and the faculty of MD Anderson won’t even pledge
its BMWs. (Yes, I have one of these but I was fired anyway). I have been
criticized for this remark, but I believe it to be true. The tether (leash?) on
the faculty consists of mortgage, car and private school tuition payments,
i.e., money. I understand. That used to be me.

         Nonetheless, I have become more convinced in recent days
that the faculty is more like the US government than it is like the Ukrainian
people in its impotence in the current local environment at 1515.

         Let’s face it. President Obama is facing Putin across three
vistas currently: Iran, Syria and the Ukraine. You could probably throw in
Afghanistan, too but at least the Russians are smart enough to stay out of that
mess this time.

Obama
threatened to draw a red line in the sand in Syria over WMDs. Poison gas was
used and he backed away.

Iran
is still out there enriching uranium and scaring the hell out of the only
democracy in their part of the world. The degree to which the US can influence
events in the Middle East is limited at best.

And
in the Crimea, does Obama really think that Putin is afraid of him when the
Russians invade thousands of miles from the US when our allies in Europe are
unlikely to do anything that would threaten their oil and gas supplies from
Russia? Not likely.

         I kept thinking the faculty was like the Ukrainians and
could make a dent in the oppression they felt by standing together against
tyranny. I think I was wrong. I think the faculty is more like America in this
one—impotent and without any good options.

         What could the faculty do short of an all-out strike on the
clinical side to get the attention of the administration? I don’t know.
Probably nothing or they would have done it already.

         The Faculty Senate has certainly gained the attention of
Austin, but has anything really changed? Not really other than the Tom Burke
for Tom Buchholz trade with players to be named later in Cancer Medicine,
Internal Medicine, Medical Breast Oncology and Neuro-oncology. 

My
understanding is that Dr. Dmitrovsky has multiple new “vices of various
stripes” reporting to him now in basic and clinical research oversight, but
that in no way improves the life of the faculty. In fact, giving all those new
administrators portfolios (and more administrators working for them) only makes
it harder on the faculty. I may not have been effective at all times as a VP,
but at least there was just one of me, not three (a truly frightening thought
to one and all).  I was easy to find given
I wasn’t hidden in the depths of some administration building. Now faculty have
to guess which door the key to their administrative needs sits behind, if anyone
in administration is interested in servicing the faculty at all.

         Geopolitically, President Obama has so hampered his options
through the squandering of his international credibility and his lack of
answers to major crises around the world while his Secretary of Defense
proposes shrinking the military, that even John McCain is calling him feckless.
Despite the constant drone of politics on the Hill, let’s hope that the
Congress can pull together and at least express its outrage at the Russian
behavior. Congress too is prepared to do very little beyond this, not that
there is much the American legislature could do anyway when it comes to Russian
bad behavior.

         Once you cry wolf and do nothing, you are a sad little lap doggie
at best. While I never thought cruise missile strikes on Syria were a good
idea, threatening them, having your bluff called and then backing away was even
worse. Sometimes, you just have to let the crazy people fight their own civil
wars despite the pain of watching innocents caught up in those wars. The cost
of saying you will dive in and then not doing so, was learned by President
Kennedy at the Bay of Pigs and Presidents Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam. It took
Kennedy’s courage in the Cuban Missile Crisis to erase the memory of his
fiasco. The current White House occupant, like Johnson and Nixon before him,
has not quite learned the lesson.

We
are not the world’s policemen. But we could be the world’s conscience and
Secretary Kerry is trying to be just that, but it’s a hard row to hoe given
what has transpired before him. After all, you can’t live on killing Osama Bin
Laden forever. That did not make Obama tough—just lucky.

         President Obama is in a helluva a fix. I have no great ideas
for him for nothing short of strength will be understood by Putin and in this
instance, it is very hard for the US to project strength that in any way
threatens the Russians’ goals of reconstituting the old Soviet Union under the
trumped up name of a Euro-Asian Union.

         The Faculty Senate has tried with all good faith and respect
to get the leadership to pay attention. Great faculty members have left. More
undoubtedly will. Perhaps there will be miraculous selections of outside talent
to fill the current vacancies in clinical care leadership. I would be pleasantly
surprised. Rather, my guess is the familiar approach of installing FORDs (Friends
of Ron DePinho) from the ranks of our current personnel (the present on lot
inventory at your local FORD dealership) whenever possible. It’s cheap and
leaves more money for IACS.

I
believe this will occur unless you are willing to turn Wednesday into Sunday
and I see no evidence of that.

         DePinho is the Putin of the Pink Palace. The faculty are
stuck in the White House that is looking more like a dog house every day.

         Roll over? Play dead? Get
mad? Are faculty members barkers or biters?

         Stay tuned. 

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