Choose Those Around You Carefully; You Will Be Judged On Their Competence

Choose Those Around You
Carefully; You Will Be Judged On Their Competence

By

Leonard Zwelling

         I was only 12 when John Kennedy became President, yet
everything about his brief time in office is indelibly etched upon my brain. I
suspect it is because he was the first President who was my President. It could
be because he was also the last President who was my President.

         I have written often about him and the effect of his
Presidency on my life for it was his use of the Moon Shot competition with the
Soviets as a political tool and a stimulus to boost the country’s interest in
science that excited the young about careers in science (audio tapes recently
revealed at the JFK Library showed he had minimal interest in space or the Race
to the Moon per se). This science push to close the “missile gap” and the
“space gap” altered the course of my career decision from being an FBI agent to
being a doctor. I understand I would have been a lousy FBI agent, but
nevertheless, the great emphasis placed on math and science in the early
sixties created many budding physicians and the Vietnam War took care of the
rest as medical school was preferential to Da Nang for those in college in the
late 1960’s.

         Because the election of John Kennedy marked a watershed in
the country’s history (he was the first veteran of WWII to be elected President
besides Eisenhower and the first born in the 20th century), every
decision he made was scrutinized as likely marking a change in direction for
the country. And changes from those around the past President were many.

Among
the most critical early decisions that were very closely watched was the
selection of the members of the Kennedy Cabinet.

         Dean Rusk was his Secretary of State and the liberal’s
darling, Adlai Stevenson went to the UN. Arthur Goldberg was his Secretary of
Labor and C. Douglas Dillon, a noted Republican, was his Secretary of the
Treasury and, of course, Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense. The most
controversial choice of all was his brother Bobby as Attorney General, but that
choice was truly prescient of JFK as Bobby was a critical advisor on matters
from civil rights to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I am not saying this illustrious
group made no mistakes for they and their colleagues were David Halberstam’s
Best and the Brightest that gave us Vietnam. But they were indeed the best and
the brightest of their era and my generation came to expect those qualities in
those appointed to high office.

My
oh my how times have changed!

President
Obama has an administration characterized by lackluster performances by
political hacks, even among those acknowledged to be the best and the
brightest. Surely Mrs. Clinton, his original Secretary of State, qualifies as
extremely bright, but she really accomplished very little beside accumulating frequent flyer miles and having a hissy fit when called to answer for a clear
error in Benghazi. Her successor Mr. Kerry is sincere, but in the Middle East
he is surely not effective. Tim Geitner and Tom Daschle both ran into tax
problems during their confirmation hearings and it cost Daschle the job at HHS
and probably lengthened the debate over ObamaCare as both Daschle and Teddy
Kennedy were on the sidelines during the crucial months when a good health care
reform bill could have actually been passed in a manner that was not an
embarrassment because lesser congressional lights were steering it through
committee and doing so poorly. (I saw that close up). It took Nancy Pelosi to force the Senate passed
version through the House to get a bill at all after Kennedy died and Scott
Brown won his seat from the inept Martha Coakley. This loss cost the Democrats
their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate before ObamaCare could
pass both houses so the only ploy left to pass the bill was to force the
version of the bill that had already passed the Senate through the House. This
by-passed the need for a conference committee to resolve differences between
House and Senate versions. This was necessary because the 41 Republicans would
have tied up the bill with a filibuster in the Senate if it had been returned
for a vote after the Brown election.

As
has been evident in the last few weeks. Mr. Obama’s public health team is every
bit as proficient at decision making and communicating as is his foreign policy
team. The CDC has fumbled more in the first quarter of the Ebola Bowl than a
peewee football team after a meal of KFC. Now Mr. Obama has appointed a
politico to the E. Beau Lazar position meaning certainly he will appoint the current
First Lady to the position of correctly pronouncing the names of current
Democratic candidates for office. How about a doc Mr. President? And while you
are at it, how about a Surgeon General?

Academic
medicine has also been plagued by a set of leaders without principles or
scruples who in turn appoint yes-men and -women to positions of power around them. This saddens me more than
anything that occurs in the federal government because this directly reflects
on the institutions and core beliefs that have most affected my life.

I
would urge all oversight boards, including the UT Board of Regents in the case
of MD Anderson, to carefully examine the guiding principles of those university
and professional school deans and presidents these boards have chosen to lead
their organizations and to ask whether or not the directions that these
academic leaders are taking reflect what is best for the institution and the
patients who come for care and whether the course of action selected by the
leader is best served by those who he or she has selected to work for them.

That
the current faculty leadership at Anderson, whether in the form of the Faculty
Senate, the Division Heads or the department chairs, has chosen to allow the
current leadership to set a direction that is unclear, undirected, uninformed
by an overriding philosophy beyond greed and hubris, and inconsistent with the prominent
patient care and clinical research history of excellence at MD Anderson should
in no way inhibit the Board of Regents from performing its fiduciary duties to
the university. And the argument about the term-tenure system is truly beside
the point. I happen to agree with the Regents that the AAUP has no role in any
of this. Frankly, who asked them?

It
is equally unfortunate that the new Chancellor is unlikely to be any more
interested in making changes at Anderson than his predecessor was. Anderson is
still making money and the new Chancellor has a new President to find at his
main campus in Austin and two new medical schools to launch, not to mention
participating in whatever new curveball Ebola has in store for Texas, where the
furor all started.

It
really is up to the Board of Regents to investigate the turmoil on Holcombe,
publicly report what their investigators find (even better if examined by an
independent group of non-Texans), and then—act!

As
Kennedy’s choices showed, as good as the people may be, they can still make
huge errors in judgment whether at the Bay of Pigs or in Vietnam. But at least
they had shown themselves to be high performers at one time in their lives and
certainly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Can the same be said about the
current leadership team at Anderson?

         I think it is time to find out through meaningful,
independent review of performance to date and plans for the future.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.