The DePinho/Chin Story To Date-The Denouement?

The DePinho/Chin Story To
Date-The Denouement?

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Obviously, this has been a momentous week in the on-going
saga of the DePinho-Chin family and its relationship with MD Anderson.

         First, the Houston Chronicle called for the ouster of the
President of MD Anderson. This is a first in recent memory. What could it mean?

         With all due respect to my friends at the Chronicle, this newspaper
has not been a leading indicator of political events. It is far more likely
that either faculty, Board of Visitors members of other prominent Houstonians
have gained the ear of the editorial board and goaded the paper’s leadership into
this editorial call for Presidential succession. In all my 30+ years in
Houston, I never remember any newspaper making such a request and certainly not
a plea to the UT System and its Board of Regents. Alternatively, the Chronicle
is aware of actions that will be taken shortly in Austin and this is a
harbinger of the shortened timeline of DePinho’s tenure in his current position
following Dr. Chin’s departure for Austin. I must admit, I doubt that. I don’t
see the Chancellor or the Board of Regents ready to pull the plug yet. But they
may well be getting close and the Chronicle may be adding to that momentum.

         Second, as alluded to above, the Chronicle documents the
departure of Lynda Chin from MD Anderson to an administrative position in public
health for which she has neither training nor experience. This is the second
departure from a major leadership position of a woman at Anderson in the past
two months leaving very few woman leaders left on the academic side of the
house. This exile for Chin sounds like the Texas equivalent of the New York
City school system’s incarceration in a “rubber room.” It is hard to believe
this isn’t the first shoe of two that will fall.

         Perhaps of greater importance than the actual events is
their meaning and sequellae.

         This is a clear indication of abject failure on the part of
previous Chancellor Cigarroa and Executive Vice Chancellor Shine in replacing
John Mendelsohn as the President of MD Anderson. No one doubted John’s aptitude
or qualifications for this position in 1996. He had all the tickets plus a good
personality fit and sufficient emotional and intellectual intelligence to
figure out what he did not know on day one. His replacement had none of these
characteristics. Instead Dr. DePinho made outlandish claims about the cure of
cancer, spent lavishly on his wife’s office, committed self-dealing on national
television and in general was unpleasant to be around. Ron DePinho was a
terrible choice as anyone who was aware of his performance in Boston could have
told the Regents. But they had to ask. Either they did not ask or did not
believe what they heard. Either way, the Regents, Dr. Cigarroa and Dr. Shine
bear full responsibility for this mess at the UT flagship cancer center for
they hired someone to do a job for which he was unprepared and was incapable of
learning and these facts were readily available at the outset had sufficient
due diligence been exercised.

        

It
is now up to the current Board of Regents and the current Chancellor to right
the ship before it hits a financial, clinical or reputational iceberg. The
longer they wait, the more likely the damage is to be significantly more than
it already appears to be around the rest of the country. (Yes, the whole world
is aware of MD Anderson’s problems).

         I do not know what will happen to Drs. DePinho and Chin once
they leave Houston. They have managed to burn all potential bridges to new
positions in both academia and industry in the U.S.—the first with their
performance at MD Anderson and the second with their failures at Aveo. Perhaps
they will find new challenges outside the U.S. I wish them well for they are
only partly responsible for the disaster that has been the past 3 ½ years at
Anderson.

         The past leadership of the UT System, its health components
and its oversight board share amply in this administrative nightmare.

         So what should be done next?

1. Put these two out of their misery and remove them from
all UT functions.

2. Find a master manager in the state who can step in to
the ad interim Presidential position at Anderson while new, permanent
leadership is identified—slowly and carefully this time!

3. Remove all of those around the DePinhos who enabled
their bad behavior and facilitated the implementation of their reign of terror
and do this yesterday. This means all of the Executive VPs and other assorted
executives and a fair number of others who were complicit either actively or
passively.

4. Call upon the past faculty friends of MD Anderson who
have left or retired in the face of the DePinho debacle and ask them to serve
temporarily to help right the ship. Most would probably do it for free. I know
that I would.

5. Have a real search for a new President with direct
faculty involvement in the search process using the Faculty Senate to represent
the interests of the faculty as pledged by Admiral McRaven.

6. Do it now!

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