Glasnost And Perestroika At MD Anderson


Glasnost And Perestroika At MD Anderson


Leonard Zwelling

With the death of Mikhail Gorbachev (see Maureen Dowd’s piece from The New York Times on September 2), the triumph of the end of the Cold War in 1989 is remembered fondly next to the war in Ukraine. The two principles for which Gorbachev was famous were glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Perhaps the faculty of MD Anderson needs to revive these Cold War principles in its attempt to gain some responsiveness from the leadership of the institution.

Gorbachev was a rock star after the successive deaths of three old line Soviet leaders including the bear-like Brezhnev.

Gorby’s forward-looking leadership for his declining empire allowed the countries of Eastern Europe to break free of the Iron Curtain and many have subsequently joined NATO. The Soviet Union is no more and the world is better for it, despite what Mr. Putin believes about it being the worst occurrence of the 20th century. The key to remember, despite the current backsliding regime in The Kremlin, is that the USSR is over and only Russia remains. That Putin has visions of restoring the USSR is of no relevance. He can’t even win back Ukraine or Ukrainians. Gorbachev changed the world forever and did so to improve it. And he did. Europe will not go back to its pre-1989 make-up.

I believe the same to be true and necessary closer to home at 1515 Holcombe. The current leader is trying to claw back the power that R. Lee Clark once wielded, but it’s a new day and that simply won’t fly. He moves against faculty and staff alike using professionalism as his weapon to send “violators” to the Gulag equivalent. People disappear. No one knows why and in that the threat of professionalism becomes a terror tactic and an effective one, too. The president uses outside attorneys to intimidate faculty and staff alike. Dr. Freireich would have called this latest iteration of MD Anderson leadership Soviet-like.

The faculty have to insist upon glasnost and perestroika in Houston.

First, the manner in which disputes will be dealt with must be transparent and written down. The president cannot give free rein to attorneys—inside ones and outside ones—to sow fear into the hearts of the faculty and staff as they are doing even as I write.

Second, the president needs to unload half of his vice presidents and fill the vacancies in the academic department leadership slots and do so within a year or he himself should be perestroika’d out of here.

How can the faculty do this?

There is only one way. The faculty must approach the Board of Regents or the Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and make them aware of what is transpiring at MD Anderson. All attempts to handle this locally have failed. Heck, the faculty cannot even get its own dining room. The time has long since passed when this nonsense, from the tediousness of the electronic medical record, to the endless series of training videos from HR, should be filling the time of busy people trying to care for patients and perform research.

It took Nixon to go to China and Reagan to urge the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. It’s going to take courage like that to get Dr. Pisters’ attention.

Glasnost and perestroika need to be dragged out of the dust bin of history and re-inserted into discussions at MD Anderson. The sooner, the better.

25 thoughts on “Glasnost And Perestroika At MD Anderson”

  1. The clever, and devious, way of using “professionalism” to eliminate challenges to authority is an old Soviet method if there ever was one.
    And, by the way the origin of the name “Pister” is German for “baker.” Your Head Baker is making the “cakes” any way that suits his appetite for control and financial gain.

  2. Dr. David Farquhar

    Another excellent post re MD Anderson’s current leadership … or lack thereof. If change is to occur, it must be initiated by the faculty, and is best accomplished through the Faculty Senate. Short of some egregious headline-grabbing incident, the Board of Regents is not likely to intervene in local campus politics. But it doesn’t hurt to keep the Board apprised of faculty dissatisfaction. The Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs in the first external “one-up” for faculty consultation but far greater decision-making authority resides with the Chancellor. For example, Chancellor William McCraven must be personally accredited with much of the favorable “actionable” changes that occurred during the previous administration. Removing the current President from office is a tough road to hoe but can be accomplished with determined and persistent faculty input. But it requires strong support from across the academic disciplinary spectrum and a willingness to put careers on the line. If Austin leaders are not responsive to faculty entreaties, a “no confidence” vote by the Senate should guarantee press attention and start the ball rolling to addressing and, hopefully, rectifying perceived irregularities and injustices. Appeasement is always an invitation to continued persecution. It can only be effectively countered by strong concerted anti-appeasement action.

    1. Right on, David. The point for action has been reached. It’s up to the Senate to galvanize faculty support for that action. LZ

    The Senate has been marginalized. PP’s previous letter regarding PRS chastised and belittled – highlighting the Senate has lost credibility with “stakeholders” (Chancellor and Regents). The administrator for the Senate is now under HR, so any efforts to communicate out will effectively be blocked.
    Faculty see the senate as controlled opposition and essentially ineffective.
    The Fascism intensifies. And when you think it can’t get worse…. the Bylaws amendments come out, hammering home the fact that faculty are widgets.

    There are 3 faculty currently having filed suit to protect their religious liberties. The way they were treated is egregious and capricious compared to other colleagues. It is all on-line. Members of the ELT publicly identified themselves as “partners in crime” regarding this issue.

    THAT WHICH IS SEEN CANNOT BE UNSEEN. It’s just a matter of the lens the Chancellor and Regents are using. And their lens is clouded by $$$ and without any faculty contact whatsoever.


    All blue arrows are free. White arrows require a Pacer account. Each page is $.10, so less than $5.

    Once an amended complaint is filed, all prior filings are moot. You will need to create an account to read the latest. It is worth the effort.

    Apparently, it is my understanding that an amended complaint must be responded to in a certain period of time- 21 calendar days. Unless filing for dismissal, which is an entailed process and can extend 6-8 weeks.

    1. My quick reading is this is about pro-life faculty who believe that the Covid vaccine was developed using fetal cells and thus they refused the vaccine. When they asked for a religious exemption, they were denied.

      This is a tough one. Where does this case stand now?

    1. I assume it was you who gifted me the package in my mailbox on Saturday. It’s a lot to digest, but I shall try. I suspect this will be more than one blog. Thanks. LZ

  5. It is not about mandatory vaccines as an example of autocracy. It’s about stripping faculty from their individual autonomy and religious liberties. Its about lack of transparency in the determination process for exemptions with inconsistent standards and capricious approvals. It’s about stating there are no appeals to the decision- that it is final, yet those who were/are tenacious and did reapply even multiple times, were rewarded. It’s about faculty being clinically active one day and the next day being completely excommunicated, then being re-indoctrinated, all without any valid indications whatsoever.
    It’s about the growing gaping chasm between the faculty and the ELT …of whom not a single member walked the halls to say “thank you” to the front line during the pandemic, but rather each jaunting across the country. It’s about hammering home to the faculty that they are replaceable widgets, without any individual value to the institution for who they are or what they bring.

    1. OK. Got it.

      I will be writing about all of this soon, BUT, I think the court case is a very separate matter even if symptomatic of the problem.

      Covid was a different challenge and the court document strikes me as likely to fail, because safety of patients was on the line. People are free to hold whatever beliefs they wish, but institutions of health care provision are also entitled to create the safest environment that they can for their patients. When these two things clash, I have to come down on the side of the patients. This is not to say that the manner in which all of this was done was consistent with good management or good leadership. I sincerely doubt that the leadership did any of this well. I just want to assure you that I read all that you sent me and am choosing not to get in the middle of the court case. I really see both sides of this one.

  6. Correct. The court case is evidence of a much greater problem.
    However, the greater problem needs to be eradicated and a balance of power restored to the faculty. The Senate has been marginalized, neutralized, and silenced— it is a powerless hologram. There is no faculty voice or platform to come together — no true location, no newsletter, no authentic interest on the part of the ELT to engage with faculty. In fact, kne member of the ELT stated that the only reason the Bylaws amendments were put to faculty / medical staff vote is because it is REQUIRED. But, that the ECMS & the Bylaws subcommittee had given approval so faculty should be OK with it. After this “encouragement”, the same ELT member recognized and acknowledged significant and IMPACTFUL errors in the document.

    1. OK. I have a blog coming out Monday that I wrote before your package arrived. I have just written the one for Wednesday which will address your documents directly–even the court case. It would be helpful to me to know who you are and what your connection to all this is, but I also understand your reason for anonymity. You’re scared. Everyone is. But somewhere a leader needs to arise. Are you it?

          1. AMEN.
            The RGB of MDA — not just for women’s rights, but for FACULTY. May the appreciation and respect be restored. And may each be valued for the exquisite physician (s)he is, as an individual, top-tier scientist, caring for and curing patients – making MDA #1.

        1. I assume this is about the law suit. Give me a quick summary as I am not inclined to write about this part of the package you sent.
          This is a side issue for me.

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