Mobile, Rooted, Stuck

Mobile, Rooted, Stuck


Leonard Zwelling

Ben Sasse is the Republican junior senator from Nebraska. He is frequently mentioned as a future presidential hopeful. He has written a new book called Them: Why We Hate Each Other—And How To Heal. It was excerpted in The Wall Street Journal (see link) on October 13, just before its publication.

In the excerpt, the senator leaves D.C. politics behind and writes of the need of a return to interpersonal civility, neighborhoods and concern for our fellow citizens.

One observation in the excerpt comes from Richard Florida, a social scientist at the University of Toronto. Florida says the Americans come in three categories: mobile, rooted and stuck.

The mobile can afford to move to areas of greater opportunity. The rooted have the means to move, but choose to stay. The stuck are, well, just that. Sasse notes that the first and third groups are growing in the U. S., but the rooted are dwindling.

I thought that this was a good observation about America, but I also think it applies to academia.

Throughout my career, both before and after I came to MD Anderson, I always behaved like I was in the first group. I was always looking at jobs and thinking that the grass was greener elsewhere, especially elsewhere than Houston, Texas. Then I would visit elsewhere and find out that it was not anywhere near as good as Houston or MD Anderson and I became the rooted. As I recently wrote in this blog, one of the reasons that was the case was MD Anderson seemed to have a great tolerance for my career whims and allowed me to keep changing the ways I could contribute to the Anderson mission. Thus, why the heck not be rooted. There was no place better.

During the tenure of the last president of MD Anderson this changed for many who were rooted. Their sense of belonging went away, either literally (they were fired) or figuratively (their contributions were no longer appreciated). Now MD Anderson should always take pride in its “graduates” who move to other, better jobs, but under the last president, far too many people were forced out long before they wished to be and surely before their contributions to MD Anderson were completed.

I think this has changed under the new leadership of MD Anderson. I think once again, most of the faculty will choose to be rooted in Houston and do their best work at Anderson. I also think the contentiousness that so characterized the DePinho years is also gone. The we vs. they philosophy that was the essence of the FORDs is now a thing of the past. Heck, even many of the FORDs are still around for better or worse. I am not sure if they are rooted or stuck given their true value.

Senator Sasse makes great points in the excerpt. I have heard him speak on television as well and he is passionate and articulate about getting the country back to one in which every one can contribute and no one is stuck.

I suggest keeping your eyes on the junior senator from Nebraska. He thinks clearly, writes well and has some great ideas about how to heal America. His ideas may already have found a home at 1515.

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