It’s Not Just Law, It’s
Law AND Order; It’s Not Just Crime, It’s Crime AND Punishment
Just in case you were thinking that MD Anderson is the only
academic institution at which one faculty member tried to poison another who is
his or her lover, here’s a little morsel from our friends in Pittsburgh.
Obviously the faculty there is more adept than the faculty here for this guy
actually wound up killing his wife proving that cyanide is more deadly than
ethylene glycol and that the ER team at Anderson is terrific.
I write this not to make a comparison between the two cases.
I know a lot about the one here and next to nothing about the one there beyond
what I have read on the web. The key to both cases is the importance of
punishment once someone, regardless of how lofty his or her station in life is,
gets caught doing something wrong.
Jackie Mason said of Richard Nixon, “everyday he got caught
and every day someone else went to jail.” Until finally they didn’t and Nixon
was gone. But let’s be honest, that one was close. Without the tapes….
For as long as I can remember in my own life, there was a
certain expectation that bad behavior, once unearthed, would be met with some
form of punishment. I was not immune. (My Dad was a First Lieutenant in the US
Army stationed in London during WWII who returned to finish his education, move
to NY, sell plastic and raise his family. Discipline during my youth was not
absent. Neither was punishment. It was necessary. Do you think I got like this just since I came to Texas?)
punishment has to be measured and appropriate and certainly needs to fit the
crime, but it cannot be nothing.
all around us, we see bad behavior, some of it criminal, without matching
punishment being meted out. This then creates an environment of moral
relativism (a slippery definition of right and wrong) and a lack of faith in
leadership and the forces of law or order in a society. This inevitably leads
to a breakdown of civil societal norms with people getting away with—dare I say
Of course, when someone gets away with murder, we usually
don’t know it because the death that was the murder is not perceived as a
crime. With other crimes it is a bit easier to see how people get away with
Start with Wall Street. Why did all those guys who took all
that money from all those people not only get away with it, but get to do it
again? Too big to fail or a government too inept to respond? As Michael Lewis
quoted Vinny Daniels saying in The Big Short: “They were more morons than
crooks, but the crooks were higher up.” Bulletin: they still are!
What about Iraq? No WMD’s, many deaths and much destruction,
yet the man who started the ball rolling got another 4 years in the White House
and we are still paying the price of his having broken the china in the Pottery
Barn and not having to reimburse the people of Iraq who aren’t Iraqis anyway
but Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites who never wanted to become one country at all.
Iraq is one of the many post-WWI British inventions of the Middle East with
which we are all stuck—especially Israel that is surrounded by British
inventions like Syria, Lebanon, Jordon and Gaza. Israel is also a British
invention (see the Balfour Declaration), but at least it was putatively formed
as a country of unified people—putatively. Now it too is in constant turmoil because
there were always two non-compatible forces within Israel (despite British
actions in a fog of denial) as they have been for well over 100 years if not
more regardless of the Balfour Declaration. These competing factions within the
British Mandate of Palestine were and are seeking to occupy the same land. This
never works out well.
So, of course, that brings me to MD Anderson, which, thanks
to the Middle East, Africa and the Ukraine is only the fourth most contentious
place on Earth.
have written in this space a great deal about the behavior of the last
administration and the current one. Personally, as an alumnus of MD Anderson
including the last administration, I am very embarrassed about this. I feel
ashamed about my defense of the last President in 2002 when he was accused of
inappropriate conflict of interest on the front pages of national newspapers,
but I am thrilled I don’t have to defend the current guy who has managed to
make the last guy look like an angel with his behavior on national television.
I didn’t think that was possible.
But if the powers that be in Austin really want to solve the
MD Anderson problem their recent survey confirmed as being yet unaddressed,
they are going to have to focus on punishment, for the antecedent behavior,
while maybe not formally criminal, is close enough to it that it has poisoned
the well and blocked any chance at reconciliation between the faculty and
Anderson’s leadership. That gets us back to the poisoning thing.
Obviously, at MD Anderson the medical response to the
poisoning of a faculty member was better than it was in Pittsburgh. The
response of the associated MD Anderson faculty members who knew of the accident
waiting to happen (they testified to it in court), was not. All those faculty
members and department chairs who sat on their hands as the tragedy at Anderson
went forward like a slow-motion train wreck have escaped any punishment for
silence besides finally having to testify over a year after the fact. (The
victim paid with his GFR, but paid no price for lying to his department chair
about his affair as that chair attested to in open court.) These eyewitnesses
ran for the hills rather than come forward with what they knew when law enforcement
and the local ADA needed their help to bring a criminal to justice. This does
not engender trust in the system either and that includes trust in the
integrity of these faculty members.
To create maximum morale, leadership has to establish a
system and a culture in which those they lead can believe. That is simply not
the case in the US, in Texas or at MD Anderson. It is up to those who choose
the leaders to make the mid-course corrections that will lead to a sense of
justice in all of those places.
Tuesday, America did what it could, but we all know it wasn’t nearly enough to
make the Congress functional. Texas did not. At Anderson, that will be up to
the executives in Austin and the Board of Regents.
But now with several faculty survey’s worth of hard data, it
can be safely said that the faculty members of Anderson have expressed their
lack of confidence in the local leadership. If the folks in Austin refuse to do
the right thing again, the faculty should forego their confidence in those UT leaders
as well and seek the nearest exit for there is no one left to whom the faculty
can appeal for justice.
The DA’s office in Houston finally brought a criminal who
was a faculty member at Anderson to justice. That same office cannot fix what
ails the Anderson faculty as a whole. It will require some degree of vision and
courage on the part of those in Austin to set this right. Even if none of the
current BoR crowd has those attributes, the cavalry with night goggles is
coming in January. Let’s hope for a better new year.
Dark Thirty a half hour past Auld Lang Syne? It’s a reasonable resolution for
the new year and a resolution to the problem at MD Anderson.