Yale, Moral Relativism and the Highly Variable Cost of Bad Behavior in Academic Medicine

Yale, Moral Relativism and
the Highly Variable Cost of Bad Behavior in Academic Medicine


Leonard Zwelling

you been following this story in academia?


         The NY Times has been on this one for a while, but I have not
seen it elsewhere.

         To make a long story short, the married Chief of Cardiology
at Yale made a pass at a post doc who was involved with a cardiologist who she
eventually married. The chief has since been accused of retaliatory behavior
against the husband who is in his department. The young man’s career path has
been blocked. The chief was also accused of sexual harassment by the woman post
doc. Last year a committee at Yale recommended that the chief be removed from
his leadership role. Instead the Provost allowed the chief to take an 18-month
hiatus and then return to his leadership position.

         This all has led to a great uproar, particularly among the
women faculty. The chief decided not to return, but the hits keep on coming as
there are now misconduct allegations in denying grant application credit involving the
man the chief already harassed (other people were taking credit for his work
while cutting him out) and the state of Connecticut has gotten involved. There
are accusations of favoritism with the Dean protecting the chief of cardiology,
and the Provost being too lenient.

         Here’s the best part.

1. Quote from secretly taped meeting of the dean with
senior faculty in the department of medicine re: sexual harassment: “If you go
to industry, industry works in teams…academics is different; academics you know
we are trying to get the best people, and we’re always trying to help the best
people succeed, and sometimes the best people, some best people, don’t behave
as well as other best people.” (Interpretation: do what you want as long as you
bring in grant money)

2. The dean then said: “what I’ve learned, I think, is
that there’s a general culture here that people believe that bad behavior will
be tolerated, and therefore a lot of bad behavior is going on.….nobody tells
anybody because they just assume that the dean, the department chair, and the
division chiefs don’t care.” (Tolerance on the part of leadership only breeds
more bad behavior)

3. One faculty member pointed out that no one does anything
because they don’t believe, “anything ever comes of it.” (Why bother using the
established means of disciplinary process and reporting when nothing will
happen anyway. At least you can avoid retribution if you never report any

I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot like MD Anderson to me for the
same reasons. Money talks and everyone else walks and the poster children for
bad behavior sit in the corner offices at every level of the institution, but
especially in the executive tower of Pickens.

memo to those same people in the ivory tower, whether in New Haven or Houston.
Knock it off.  Your mothers taught you better.
Discipline yourselves first and then worry about everyone else.

hope my Christian friends will forgive me when I borrow from the New Testament
when Jesus says in John 8:7:

“He that is without sin among
you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

Folks, if we keep having
Presidents who exhibit a disordered sense of right and wrong topped with moral
relativism, groupthink and highly questionable behavior around their own
financial transactions and board seats in the private sector, while punishing
people who report to them for far lesser deeds, don’t be surprised if both MD
Anderson and Yale are plagued with similar stories of massive egress by those good
faculty who can still find jobs elsewhere. Of course, as far as I know there
has been no aggravated assault at Yale…yet.

But as my late, great
father-in-law always told me: “what do you know?”

I know this much about faculty
and humans in general. They will do whatever the established culture and the institutional leadership will tolerate and the traffic
will bear. Clearly at both Yale and MD Anderson, traffic cops are needed. 

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