Secret Dropbox

Secret Dropbox

By

Leonard Zwelling

I drove into the driveway from my Saturday Pilates class (September 17) and noticed a large, metallic silver envelope in the mailbox. I was surprised the mail had arrived so early. It was just 10:45.

I retrieved the unmarked package and opened it.

Within the large metallic envelope were two smaller manila ones. One had my name on it. “I guess this is for me,” I shouted to Genie.

Upon opening the packages the contents were both surprising and disturbing. Here’s what I found:

  1. A copy of a memo dated September 16, 2022 from Isabella Claudia Oliva Glitza entitled “From the ECFS-Proposed Amendments to the Medical Staff Bylaws”
  2. A copy of the 69-page Medical Staff Bylaws dated October 28, 2020 that was filled with red-lined corrections, deletions and additions along with yellow highlighted sections to which I was to pay particular attention.
  3. A timeline of communications between the Faculty Senate and President Peter Pisters dating back to September 22, 2021 documenting a series of concerns expressed by the Senate to which the Executive Committee requested specific written responses from Dr. Pisters.
  4. A memo from October 6, 2021 to Dr. Pisters from the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate entitled: “Letter of Concern regarding establishment of Academic and Research Policy Councils to govern review and recent move of Physician Referral Service personnel to Human Resources”
  5. A memo from November 15, 2021 from the Faculty Senate to the University of Texas Board of Regents through the Chancellor and Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs entitled: “October 19, 2021 Faculty Senate Resolution”
  6. A memo from Dr. Pisters dated December 13, 2021 entitled: “Response to the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate’s Memorandum Dated October 6, 2021, regarding the administrative move of PRS Benefits from Finance to Human Resources”
  7. The filing from a US District Court for the Southern District of Texas Galveston Division entitled: Bobby Bellard, Craig Messick and Barbara Speer, Plaintiffs v. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Peter W. T. Pisters, Rosanna Morris, Carin Hagberg, Welela Tereffe, Roy Chemaly, Shibu Verghese and John Does 1-5.

That’s a lot of stuff to be dropped on your doorstep on a Saturday morning.

Let me try to tease out what I believe to be the essence of these documents the source of which I do not know. I can only assume it is a faculty member close to the Senate who also has my address.

In deference to my wife, Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman, the in-coming Senate chair, I want to go on record now as saying that she was NOT the source. This came in that envelope from an anonymous person. It had my name on it.

  1. The September 16 memo from Dr. Glitza was a heads up to the faculty who had been sent the Bylaws with the new amendments on September 2, 2022 and were being asked to approve or disapprove of the changes by September 19. (This deadline has now been extended). The reason for Dr. Glitza’s concern was that the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate (ECFS) had requested an extension for voting. That extension request was originally declined. In other words, major changes to the manner in which clinical faculty would be credentialed were being proposed with no input from the Senate or the faculty as a whole in the development of these changes or any transparency about why these changes were needed. It was also not clear if the approval required a 50% vote of the clinical faculty body or 50% vote of those who respond.
  2. I proceeded to go through the bylaw changes and was disturbed by what I read. The major thrust was to create a system to determine if clinical faculty are fit for duty. This was done again without consultation with the Senate. If I understood what I read, (after all lawyers wrote this), once someone is out for 30 days for any reason, he/she/they can be compelled to demonstrate his/her/their continued fitness for duty. I guess this would even include a female faculty member on maternity leave. (This may have been modified since). It also appears to me that a faculty member’s credentials can be terminated if he/she/they do not request re-credentialing and that the medical staff office may or may not be notifying faculty of their renewal dates. In among the other changes appeared to me to be the provision that Division Heads were being demoted, as department chairs reported to the medical staff not the Division Head, and Division Heads were relegated to non-voting ex-officio members of the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff. This was also the case for the head of PRS. In addition, appeals and mediation appear also to be in jeopardy to me.
  3. In document number 3 above, there is a timeline starting with September 22, 2021 that indicates the lack of responsiveness of the president to the Faculty Senate’s request for clarification of policy changes and the restructuring of PRS.
  4. The October 6 memo expresses that concern.
  5. In frustration the Senate voted to communicate with the Board of Regents about the president’s lack of response. The vote was 197 for, 0 against, 1 abstention.
  6. On December 13, Dr. Pisters did respond to the October 6 memo explaining the movement of the PRS to HR. But the latest changes in the by-laws done without consultation with the Senate indicate that Dr. Pisters did not get the message of discontent with his ignoring required shared governance.
  7. The law suit is quite a separate matter as it is accusing the institution of not respecting the religious beliefs of 3 faculty members who would not get Covid vaccination based on those beliefs. I actually see both sides of this and therefore will not comment on this at this time.

The source certainly provided me with a great deal of food for thought in my mailbox. But I think this can be summarized rather readily.

The current executive leadership team (ELT) has chosen to ignore the entreaties of the Faculty Senate to involve the Senate early in the process of policy revision and major moves of entities within the organization that service that faculty. Dr. Pisters has chosen to act unilaterally.

I understand that Dr. Clark did it this way. Dr. LeMaistre did not and Dr. Mendelsohn didn’t during his first five years before his financial dealings colored his view of his job and undermined his effectiveness.

Dr. DePinho was a clear autocrat. It brought him down.

Early in the Pisters tenure I made a few suggestions to him in person. I asked Dr. Pisters to make sure his scientific leader was a member of the National Academy of Sciences to insure the prestige of research at the institution. I also suggested that he would not have to do very well to be better than the last guy.

Alas, he has managed to fall short.

UT System policy indicates that campus leaders must consult with the faculty when policy changes are required. This is called shared governance. It is not optional. Based on their actions, the current leadership of MD Anderson does not believe in shared governance. Of this, there can be no doubt. Of this, there should also be no tolerance.

My source has given me much to think about and write about. It is dreadful that my source should have to use such subterfuge. If you want more information, I suggest you contact your senators or the ECFS directly. This is all a concerted effort by the ELT to minimize the importance of the faculty in general and the Senate as a representative of that faculty.

In the end, it will be up to that faculty to determine whether these changes stand.

12 thoughts on “Secret Dropbox”

  1. Remember Dr Pisters was selected by a Search Committee who had a long-term agenda for MD Anderson! That agenda has to be based on financial advancement of the shareholders. So, like any good surgeon, he follows the operative plan.
    I admire your courage to stand up to what is happening at not only MD Anderson but also throughout American academic medicine.
    The needs of the patient are NOT really FIRST. Nor, is research and education. The Triumvirate of Care, Research and Education has been insidiously replaced by Care, Research, Education and PROFIT for a select few of administrators and other shareholders.

    1. Correct, but I doubt that there was a real search committee for the MD Anderson president. My guess is that the Board of Regents picked their fave, for whatever reason. In this case, Pisters appeared to be the non-Ron DePinho. In the end, he may prove to be worse. LZ

  2. Yes, the ball is firmly in the Senate’s court. There can be no doubt that MDACC administration is out to marginalize, perhaps eliminate, the role of the Faculty Senate in institutional governance. Earlier this year, administration hired an outside legal firm to investigate what appeared to be a trumped-up charge against a key Senate staff member. Seven former Senate chairs, including myself, critically reviewed the available information and could find not a scintilla of evidence in support of the charge. We collectively communicated our findings to President Pisters. Our correspondence was ignored.

    From the history of Dr. Pister’s leadership, it is clear that he has thumbed his nose at UT System’s mandated role for faculty governance in policy decisions that affect faculty welfare. This cannot be allowed to stand.

    Here’s my plan of action:

    1. The Senate should draw-up a list of clearly defined grievances that need to be addressed by administration. President Pisters and the CAO (to whom the Senate reports) should be invited to a town-hall meeting to address each grievance.

    2. If the grievances are not satisfactorily resolved at the President level, the UT System Chancellor together with the Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs should be invited to meet with the ECFS. Precedent for such action is that Dr. William McCraven, former UT System Chancellor, met with the ECFS on several occasions to address flagrant faculty abuses by the previous administration. These abuses led to formal censure of the MDACC by the American Association of University Professors

    3. If no progress is made at the Chancellor level, a memo should be sent to Francie Frederick, General Counsel to the Board of Regents, requesting (1) that the grievances be included as an agenda item at the next Board meeting, and (2) that the MDACC Senate Chair be invited to present these grievances. The request should be sent over the signature of all consenting Senate members – perhaps as many as 200. In this context, there is no evidence that any previous Senate correspondence sent to the Board was actually reviewed by the Board. If so, it would be reflected in the Board Minutes. Such evidence is lacking.

    4. If UT System refuses to allow MDACC faculty grievances as a Board agenda item, then the grievances should be sent to the attention of each individual Board member. All supporting signatures should be included. There is nothing remiss with this course of action. Indeed, it is the Board’s duty to ensure that each component of the UT System is administered in accordance with Regent’s Rules, and that the role of faculty governance in issues that affect faculty welfare is honored and respected.

    The foregoing is an escalating series of actions that presumes failure at each previous level. Importantly, it gives President Pisters an opportunity to demonstrate that he is a responsible leader, worthy of the stewardship of an internationally acclaimed cancer center. If he fails, he is just another walking example of the Peter Principle.

    1. David: This is a great plan and well thought out. Perhaps you should communicate directly to Dr. Glitza and/or meet with the ECFS your self. LZ

    2. DF—-
      Regarding #2 & 3 in the above reply….. late 2021 a letter of concern was sent to PP with a request for reply in 10days regarding 2 issues of grievance. Ignored.
      A 2nd request was sent w 10d window and a statement to escalate to Chancellor & Board of Regents if no dialogue / engagement / resolution. Again, ignored.
      A 3rd “reminder “ was sent. Ignored.
      The Senate followed thru and sent letter to C & BoR with a vote 179-0 in favor of sending.
      The response from PP was smoke and mirrors to Austin, and chastising beyond reproach to the Senate…. saying they had lost credibility w “stakeholders “.
      Senate was effectively silenced

  3. Sorry for the delay in responding to JD but just got home from a long and tiring road trip – apart from an hour’s respite when I made the post. The Faculty Senate is the official UT System-sanctioned governance body of MDACC. By ignoring legitimate correspondence from its elected leadership, President Pisters (PP) is in substantial violation of both the letter and the spirit of Regents’ Rules.

    You can be sure that many fawning VP’s regularly scan this blog and hurry to PP, anxious for a kind word or blessing as a reward for their diligence. In fact, I’d be astonished – given the increasing attention of the blog to MDACC affairs – if PP does not read it for himself.

    The history you quote amounts to overwhelming evidence in support of my plan. I’d begin by clearly defining the issues at stake and again forwarding them to PP with a request for a town-hall meeting. If no response is forthcoming within a specified time-period, say 10 days, I’d move to the 2nd part of the plan. If this is met with silence, it constitutes grounds to move to part 3. Of course, these communication efforts should be carefully documented, together with all previous communication attempts, and offered to Francie Frederick as grounds for bringing the matter to the attention of the Board of Regents. I’d expect some constructive response from Ms. Frederick and a potential willingness to engage the Regents. Part 4 would only be invoked in extreme circumstances – which I do not expect to manifest. But it must be held in reserve as an option and followed through in the face of unyielding intransigence. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that both local, state, and national media will be all over this issue like fleas on a hound dog if the Faculty Senate is shut out from their legitimate role in institutional governance. I’d be most happy to contribute in any constructive way I can but, unfortunately, will be out of the country for 6 weeks beginning September 27. My niece runs a castle for King Charles in the far north of Scotland and if, perchance, I run into him I’ll be sure to ask how he handles such standoffs!

  4. It’s embarrassing to come across errors in my own hastily written words on Dr. Zwelling’s blog. An inadvertently omitted word can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. In the opening paragraph I should have written, “The Faculty Senate is the official UT System-sanctioned FACULTY governance body of MDACC.” There. Corrected. The remaining comments stand as written.

    David

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