New Constant Change Over Previous Long-Term Stability

New Constant Change Over Previous Long-Term Stability


Leonard Zwelling

Recently I noted that there have only been five presidents in MD Anderson’s long history and that the three earliest—Clark, LeMaistre, and Mendelsohn, each had long tenures in office. For the past ten years, the same is not the case. DePinho was a real short-termer for an MD Anderson leader and Pisters has yet to declare himself to be on a plane with his three earliest predecessors. In other words, it is too soon to say whether the historical norm of long-lived MD Anderson presidencies has vanished or is being re-established.

In an interesting opinion piece in The New York Times on March 31, Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs and a member of the American Enterprise Institute, makes similar observations about American political parties.

“Republicans won seven of the nine presidential elections from 1896 to 1928 and controlled both houses of Congress for most of that stretch. Then from 1932 through 1950, Democrats won five presidential elections in a row and controlled Congress for all but two years.”

After that came the divided government of mostly GOP presidents and mostly Democratic Congresses.

Then came more recent history where the White House is in constant partisan flux including presidents elected while losing the popular vote. Control of Congress keeps changing.

As Levin notes, you would think that would promote each party appealing to the middle of the country’s sentiments, but instead the parties drive more to the extremes in both cases expecting that such activity will end in victory. It does. Briefly. It probably will this November in Congress. Who knows what will happen in 2024? Who knows who will even run for the White House in 2024? More old guys or some young blood?

The same may be occurring at MD Anderson. Where each of the first three MD Anderson presidents sought to widen his constituency, the last two seem to be narrowing it by causing employees and faculty to choose between blind support and muted, frightened opposition.

My own experience with MD Anderson presidents does not go back to R. Lee Clark, but all of the faculty who did work for him spoke of him fondly when I got here in 1984. Dr. LeMaistre had his own team of supporters (including me) and had the good sense to make those people, especially those who were hired under him, his institutional leaders. Dr. Mendelsohn did the same having a truly remarkable senior staff in the early years of his tenure.

In fact, so did Dr. DePinho although he demanded much greater fealty and thus seemed to surround himself with much lesser intellects than did Dr. Mendelsohn.

The current new guy kept the old guy’s people on. All the hiring has been from within which leaves the institution with no new identity to go with what has to be a new direction after the tumultuous DePinho years.

Is MD Anderson entering a new normal of constant turmoil in the face of lack luster leadership?

The United States certainly has. Our presidents have been lesser figures in the past thirty years from sexual predators, to bumbling warriors, to ineffective but smooth orators, to malignant misogynists.  Now we have Sleepy Joe who ran as a middle of the road guy, but hustled to the left as soon as he came into office. What’s going on here?

In essence, the new leadership has not found a strategy for progress or the means to actualize it because the leadership runs to the fringes rather staying in the center.

Where the American center is may be hard to judge, but I think a robust economy, low inflation, domestic tranquility and a right-of-center libertarian streak to leave people alone might be the crux of it.

At Anderson, it is a reinvestment in young, dynamic and visionary faculty leadership recruited from the best and brightest throughout the country, not just the promotion from within from Houston.

Right now the leadership of MD Anderson is in great conflict with the faculty simply because that faculty is poorly led by him and largely ignored. That can change—but so can the president.

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