MAGA: Make Anderson Great Again

MAGA: Make Anderson Great Again


Leonard Zwelling

Jamelle Bouie does a good job in The New York Times of September 22 demonstrating the problem America is in.

In essence, back in the 1940’s and 50’s the Democratic Party had a decision to make. Was it willing to delay supporting civil rights policies and retain the support of the Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats), or would it follow the lead of the mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey, and stand for racial equality and lose the South. The Democrats chose the latter and had the support of the Black community ever since. By doing the right thing they did the politically expedient thing in galvanizing the recently migrated African-Americans of the cities of the North and ignoring the racial bigots of the South.

Today, the Republican Party is dominated by the Trumpist MAGA crowd, but there is no equivalent of the northern Black voter to right the listing ship of Republican illogic that denies the outcome of the 2020 election and seeks to win elections not by getting the most votes but by using the gerrymander, the court system, and novel laws trying to cement voter disenfranchisement. As Bouie notes, “but if not for roughly 120,000 votes across four states—Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Donald Trump would still be president.” There is something to be said for having the right power in the right place and Republicans seem to have it at the moment.

At MD Anderson, all the power is centered in the Office of the President. All power flows from the occupant of that office. He appoints all the senior administrators who also wield power. He appoints the clinical Division Heads and the basic science department chairs who in turn control the resources upon which the faculty depend. Thus, like the MAGA Republicans, the current MD Anderson administration is in the driver’s seat. That the administration has chosen to ignore the requests of the Faculty Senate for true shared governance, even as that shared power is written in the rules of the University of Texas System, leaves the Senate little recourse beyond trying to make itself heard.

This is truly unfortunate because the input of the governed is always beneficial to the ultimate success of any organization. What can be done to correct the gross inequity in governance that is plaguing MD Anderson currently?

As this blog has noted, the Faculty Senate has tried on multiple occasions to engage Dr. Pisters and his lieutenants in constructive discussion with regard to unilateral changes in policy ordered by the president. This attempt at dialogue has failed to date. Furthermore, my sources are telling me that outside attorneys are having a major impact in disputes involving the administration and the faculty. These attorneys work for the administration. How can they be expected to be unbiased arbiters of right and wrong or even trusted mediators?

In several comments on my blog, former Faculty Senate chair, my colleague and friend Dr. David Farquhar, has outlined a series of steps that the Faculty Senate might take in its quest to make MD Anderson great again. I urge everyone to read his suggestions which involve direct engagement with local power in Houston with the eventual progression by taking steps to open dialogue with the powers of the university in Austin should local efforts fail.

MD Anderson is a mess right now. Fear permeates every clinic and, as the Workload Survey indicated, discontentment rules the day in the halls of Anderson. People are overworked, burning out, and thinking about leaving. Despite this, the infringement on faculty autonomy continues from the top of Pickens Tower.

I am afraid that the Farquhar Plan may need to be activated if Anderson is to be made great again. The Faculty Senate will have to up its game and seek to recruit all the faculty in its mission of shared governance. Like the leadership of the Republican Party, the leadership of MD Anderson is way out of the mainstream. At least in American politics, the people can vote. At MD Anderson, the governed have little power unless their elected body gains the support of the rank-and-file. That should be the Senate’s goal.

10 thoughts on “MAGA: Make Anderson Great Again”

  1. UT System Regents’ Rule 20201, Section 5.3, reads: “Each president will receive a comprehensive performance review by the appropriate Executive Vice Chancellor, the Chancellor, and the Board at the conclusion of each five-year period, beginning after the first year of service as president. The review will include an interview with the Board in Executive Session during which the president will outline his or her renewed vision and plans for the future of the institution.”

    Dr. Pisters was appointed MDACC president on December 1, 2017. If I read this rule correctly (“beginning after the first year of service as president”), the “five-year period” extends through November 30, 2023. I believe it is imperative that MDACC’s official faculty governance organization, the Faculty Senate, has input into this performance review. This can only be accomplished by direct communication between the Senate and the Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and the Chancellor. It is timely, therefore, to fully document each and every occasion where Dr. Pisters has failed to acknowledge or address faculty concerns. As evidenced by a 2022 Workload Survey, presented to the Faculty Senate on June 1 (and succinctly summarized by Dr. Zwelling in his blog of September 23) there are dire and pervasive concerns regarding Dr. Pisters’ performance.

  2. MD Andersen isn’t a national government and therefore is not a democracy, it is a business. There’s an old saying “the boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss“. I’m afraid you’re going to be seeing more and more of this in medicine as venture capitalists and corporations buy out private medical practices and treat them more as an autocratic business than any physician would do in a private practice.

    1. Unfortunately, the leaders of MD Anderson have CHOSEN to put business over patient care and research. That is not the mission of this non-profit, state institution. Running MD Anderson like a business was a choice of the past three presidents. And it’s getting worse. LZ

  3. MD Anderson Cancer Center is not a private medical practice. It is a State of Texas government organization that is answerable to a nine-member Board of Regents appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. And, in this case, the boss is NOT “always the boss.” He (or she) serves at the pleasure of the Board and can be dismissed, inter alia, for performance issues.

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