Term Limits: For Politicians, Chairmen, and Professors

Term Limits: For Politicians, Chairmen, and Professors


Leonard Zwelling

On May 28 I was listening to Chuck Todd on Meet The Press Daily on MSNBC. Yes, I was listening only as I was in the car and had access to MSNBC on Sirius/XM radio. Chuck and his guests, George Will and Charlie Sykes, both highly regarded conservative commentators, were discussing a new Republican phenomenon. The conversation was steered to GOP acquiescence and lack of courage in the face of the outrageous comments and political positions of President Trump. In particular, why were good conservative members of Congress allowing the president to get away with praising a murderous dictator like Kim Jung Un while bashing the intelligence of the former vice president and current contender for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination Joe Biden while Trump was on foreign soil in Japan. There was hardly a peep from the Republicans about this faux pas. There has hardly been a peep from the Republicans about any of Trump’s many faux pas, lies, exaggerations and possibly criminal behavior. Mitt Romney is silent. Lindsey Graham thinks Trump is swell and his good golf bud. Mitch McConnell praises the president. In short, there is no leadership at all on the part of the elected members of the GOP. John McCain would be sick.

The likely reason for all of this obfuscation is the fear on the part of the Republicans that without the backing of Trump’s dedicated minions (the 35% who think Trump can do no wrong), any GOP incumbent would be primaried from the right and would lose his seat. Let’s make it easier for them. Term limit them all. Then they can feel free to do their real job of representing the American people without the worry of having to run again. Let’s let the House members have five two-year terms and the senators two six-year terms. Then they have to take a break from holding elected federal office for at least four years. Maybe some of them will run for governor in their states and learn how to manage something bigger than a Senate office.

The point of the discussion on Meet the Press Daily was the astonishment on the part of Mr. Will and Mr. Sykes that people who they previously aligned with are so lacking in any principles that they won’t stand up for what’s right and more importantly what is good for America. It can’t be good for the United States’ President to defend Chairman Kim and trash a former vice president. What will our allies think? What will our enemies think? If what it takes to get the Republicans in Congress to do their job is to term limit them, let’s pass the law even if it’s a Constitutional amendment. Oh right. It is those very people who would have to pass it. Now how likely is that?

One of the suggestions I have made for many years is to do the same thing with the terms of executives, department chairs and Division Heads at MD Anderson. Perhaps they too would grow some courage. The debacle that was the DePinho term in office was promoted by a group of Division Heads who simply would not challenge him or, who when they did, were severely disciplined or fired. That was outrageous but it did intimidate the remaining Division leaders to shut up and go along until the powers that be in Austin finally had had enough. The DePinho Era was far too long. It was obvious to anyone with a brain that his narcissistic style of leadership would lead the institution to disaster. And it did.

Now it seems MD Anderson may be subject to a new kind of tyranny. The drive to uniform “professional” behavior among the faculty seems to be a primary plank of the Pisters Platform. This is the exact opposite of what made MD Anderson great which was the environment that fostered individuality, innovation, and, yes, some unusual people. Many of them are and were the pioneers of American oncology. Do away with the people on the edge (three standard deviations off the mean) and the regression to the mean will guarantee mediocrity.

Is that what MD Anderson is becoming? Is it like the mediocre branch of government on Capitol Hill in Washington? Let’s hope not. Perhaps some term limits for many of those at Anderson in leadership roles would rejuvenate the place. You’ll never know until you try.

Finally, I would do it for regular faculty as well. You get two tenure renewals in one department. (That’s a twenty-one year run for most new assistant professors). After that, you need to develop skills that would allow your appointment in some other department. This would promote experimentation and the trying of new things, never a bad idea.

Congress, Vice Presidents, Division Heads, department chairs and professors. Term limit them all, The best of the best will continue to develop new skills and new ideas. Those in a rut can move over.

Harsh? Maybe, but think about the possibilities.

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