Process Must Be Policy

Process Must Be Policy


Leonard Zwelling

Remember the four P’s: Policy, Process, Politics and Personality. These are the major forces that drive the government in Washington, DC in ascending order of importance. Surely how people in groups interact (politics) and how they behave as individuals (personality) are the major drivers. That does not demean the first two P’s. They count, too. A lot.

Policy is what an organization writes down as its rules of conduct. This is how the leadership will handle every conceivable instance requiring decision making. Process is exactly how the policy will be implemented and it too must be written down.

The major complaint about the manner in which President Trump is being treated of late is that the process by which the FBI and Department of Justice is conducting its investigation is opaque. If keeping the process opaque actually was protecting the object of the investigation, maybe the opacity could be forgiven. But, it’s not. In fact, quite the opposite. The supposition espoused by the major news organizations is that President Trump must have done something wrong. In fact, that has yet to be determined and everyone would be a bit more understanding if the process by which this investigation is moving forward was a little bit transparent. The same was true of the Russia investigation. Opaque.

Even on Law and Order everyone knows what the “probable cause” for a search warrant is. Not at MD Anderson and that’s not good.

On July 2, 2007 when I was removed as the Vice President for Research Administration because the position was being eliminated and (to be honest) I had surely outlasted my “use by date,” it had no bearing on my faculty appointment or my tenure. I knew I served at the pleasure of the president and I was no longer pleasing anyone. The commitment the institution had to me academically was maintained even as I ended it early by taking another job before my tenure was up. That process was all clear.

On a similar note, when I was a vice president and had to make a tough decision about a regulatory infringement by a faculty member, the process for doing so was completely transparent. Most of the policies AND processes were federal—human subjects research, animal care and use, biosafety, and research misconduct. The conflict-of-interest policy and the associated processes were local and had to be developed in about 2001. They were. Of course, we had to generate computer programs, data bases, and forms for all of it, but that’s fine. The point is any policy requires accompanying process instructions and it all must be written down.

Flash forward.

It appears that the current MD Anderson administration is using “professionalism” as a cudgel to secretly discipline and fire faculty and high-ranking administrative staff without due process, or if the disciplined are receiving due process, it’s all under wraps and “confidential.”. If Dr. Pisters wants to emphasize his idea of professionalism as the way to create a uniform work force in the name of harmony and “wokeness” as opposed to making progress against cancer, he should say so.  (And yes, the two may not be compatible. Genius is not always well-behaved.)

Please let me clear, I have no insight into what the people did who are being let go or whether or not the punishment fit the crime, but I do know that when the administration wants to be this heavy-handed, the only defense the faculty and staff has is not only clear policy, but clear process. Everything needs to be written down. Everything!

The last point I want to make is about something that I saw introduced into the institution under Dr. Mendelsohn. That is essentially that every problem is a legal problem, thus every solution requires a lawyer. That’s just baloney. If the leadership chosen by the Regents has to lean on lawyers (their own and outside counsel) every time it has to make a decision, it is they, not the putative errant faculty, that needs replacing. Man up. Leave the lawyers at home. Do your own dirty work!

2 thoughts on “Process Must Be Policy”

  1. Another excellent commentary. I know first-hand there’s some very shady disciplinary action going on at MD Anderson which has already been communicated to the Board of Regents. At least one case is the subject of a lawsuit against the institution. And you are correct that Dr. Mendelsohn used in-house attorneys to do his dirty work against what he viewed as “difficult” faculty. I was chair of the Grievance Committee for 5 years in the mid- to late-90’s and handled over 30 faculty grievance cases. Many of these could have been resolved by low-key arbitration … until Dr. Mendelsohn decided to send in his vicious legal attack dogs. Invariably, this resulted in grievants hiring their own attorneys – with their cases spinning out of control. As one VP put it at the time, “The purpose of junkyard dogs is to defend the property, not to attack the owner’s children.” Wise words which were largely unheeded.

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