The Corporate Personhood of MD Anderson and The Godfather Saga

If Corporations Are
People, And MD Anderson Is A Corporation, Is MD Anderson A Person? If so, Who
and Why Would He Behave So Badly?: The Godfather Rationale

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Yes, I know there was a real Monroe Dunaway Anderson. In the
title I am referring to the Cancer Center not the cotton merchant.

         The Supreme Court and Mitt Romney have both deemed
corporations “people.” These mega-person “people” have rights, particularly the
right of free speech and the right to donate ungodly amounts of money to
whomever the corporations choose.

         For many years now, MD Anderson has been organized like,
been run as, and professes to be, at least in some senses, a corporation even
though it is a tax-exempt branch of a state university. After all, there is a
CEO called the President. There is an oversight corporate board, the Board of
Regents. There are enumerable levels in a square shaped org chart which has
become the classic American mess of an overly stacked cupcake-like Rubik’s Cube
(5 white men are the frosting) with far too many vice presidents, all with putative
authority and none with any accountability until the President decides he’s had
enough, as he did this week with the Head of Pediatrics. Then the people are
rearranged in the corporate red velvet.

It’s
surgery, really. Sometimes it’s a frank excision, but usually it’s more of a
transplant as people move boxes on the “person” org chart through corporate
demotion. It’s a game of musical chairs with the tune being called by the CEO,
err…President.

This
“corporate person” lives on with different parts in different places. In this
way, survival of the corporation is guaranteed. The “corporate person” red
velvet cupcake with white icing is immortal.

         But the truth is that MD Anderson IS NOT a corporation. It
does not pay taxes as a corporation does. It does not make a profit. It generates
a margin used to cover other expenses. It does invest, but does so through a
parent holding company of the UT System called UTIMCO. MD Anderson does not
issue stock nor is it privately held. Even its employees’ health coverage is self-insurance
through the UT System that is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield. (And you
thought you were covered by Blue Cross, right? Wrong.)

MD
Anderson is a patient care, research and educational facility that is part of
the larger University of Texas and thus, it is not a person or a corporation.
So why do the leaders of MD Anderson choose to justify their bad and rude
behaviors as “that’s just corporate life?”

         Because they can.

         Recently, a friend who ought to know better told Genie that
the events of this week are “just the way things are done in corporate
America.” Really? I guess this person agrees with those who deem MD Anderson a
corporation despite its tax status and relationship with a government run and tax-subsidized
educational organization.

This
MD Anderson corporate stuff is pure rationalization and moral relativism of the
lowest order. (The common term for this is BS, although groupthink will do). MD
Anderson tolerates and encourages bad behavior because everyone else does. It
never used to be that way at Anderson, but I had to deal with this for 8 years
with John Mendelsohn who was a real believer in both Anderson, Inc. (look at
those buildings once described by a former Anderson CFO as “Mendelsohn’s
crack”) and moral relativism (John wanted to store the tumor tissue of every
Anderson patient, whether or not they had been asked for consent, for future
research use despite this being against federal law. He yelled at me when I
noted that Anderson “could not do that”).

You
really cannot explain Enron, ImClone and the conflict-of-interest fiasco the
past president faced any other way than he was learning from those with whom he
associated in the corporate world.

Dr.
Mendelsohn actually told me once that he joined the Enron board to learn about
that world. That many of his buddies (Skilling, Fastow, Kopper, Waksal,
Stewart) wound up in orange jumpsuits obviously was of little concern to John
as by some miracle, he escaped donning the “new black”.

Enough
is enough, people (and I mean you all, the real people of MD Anderson). MD
Anderson is neither a corporation nor a person. It is a branch of The
University of Texas with a distinct mission and that mission does not include
maximizing shareholder value. MD Anderson’s “shareholders” are the taxpayers of
Texas. It also does not include maximizing executives’ pay.

It
may be fine in corporate America to have subordinates call in a leader of a
successful program after 14 years of service (30 years on the faculty; the pin
came this week; we chalked it up to irony) and provide her with an ultimatum—resign
or be relieved with no explanation given. Make no mistake. That is what
happened at 11 AM in the executive suite at the top of Pickens on Monday,
February 9. There was nothing voluntary about this “resignation” despite
leadership’s claims to the contrary.

This
is NOT fine at MD Anderson and I believe that the Faculty Senate should once
and for all express a vote of “no confidence” in this administration, less for
what it does than for the way it chooses to do it. That this charade of a
corporate dismissal, was choreographed by a long-standing faculty member who is
now CMO, is absolutely shameful. Clearly having a backbone and telling the
President, “I respect your decision but this way is just wrong” is not in the
job description or moral compass of Dr. Buchholz.

Every
Division Head and department chair serves at the pleasure of the President. If
the President wants to make a change, that’s his prerogative.

HOW
he does it is also his choice. He can be civil, do it himself and preserve the
dignity and integrity of all involved. Or he can hand the dirty deed over to
his button men who only served to embarrass themselves even further (who
thought that could be possible?) by prevaricating to the Pediatrics faculty
about what really occurred.

I
am reminded of the valuable lesson I learned one Saturday evening when I
attended a service at the Lakewood Church (nee The Summit).

“When
you are right, but you are rude, you are wrong.”

Amen
Brother Joel.

Shame
on you Ron DePinho for sending your boys to do a man’s job. For goodness sake.
Grow a pair!

There
are two quotes from The Godfather that come to mind:

“Act
Like a Man”

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbZEkFLXh9Y)

“I’ll
make him an offer he can’t refuse”

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeldwfOwuL8)

Ron
DePinho needs to read the first.

At
least, Tom Buchholz read the second in providing a respectable soft landing for
Coach K, but it was no celebration. It was a sad day as Genie told her faculty.

And
don’t you love that both of Ron (oops!) Don Corleone’s statements were made to
Johnny Fontane. There’s that surname again.

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