Lunging Toward The Future; Longing For The Past
Faculty Convocations, of necessity, look forward and back.
The look back is inherent in the awards ceremonies. After all, these kudos are given for past performance. So many of the recipients noted the greatness of MD Anderson to which they were honored to contribute, but hinted at a concern that this excellence be continued. Dr. Glitza more than hinted at her concerns for the future in her speech noting the increase in faculty and staff burnout as a consequence of work conditions and systemic problems within the cancer center. This burnout is not a sign of individual psychological disorder, but rather institutional disorder stemming from Covid precautions (I think the podium participants could have shed their masks on Friday); overly full clinics; inadequate time per patient visit; inadequate time for care giver downtime; and inadequate staff support in the clinical areas. These are all fixable problems that have come to exemplify the recent past and the present without an adequate plan on the part of institutional leadership for the future.
The look forward was principally by the president, but his speech was one of generalities and listed awards by outside groups for MD Anderson’s commitments to diversity and other matters of social interest that really don’t reflect the concerns of most faculty. What about the contributions to science and medicine? How is the cancer center doing there? We heard that grants are up, but is that grant numbers or dollars which may well reflect inflation? I did not hear from Dr. Pisters a plan for the future beyond building a new research building without him saying why that was needed. What is the strategic plan for MD Anderson, Dr. Pisters?
Looking back, you have to be impressed with the work of the awardees. Looking forward you have to be concerned with the quality of the leadership, the plans, and the team in place to take MD Anderson to the next level. So, what would be aspects of a future plan?
First, how will the leadership get over its inability to initiate shared governance with the Faculty Senate? Why are there so many instances of supposed unprofessionalism currently under investigation and why are so many outside lawyers involved in matters that should be adjudicated between the administration and the faculty? The administration looks at every problem as a legal one and thus requires the expertise of outside counsel despite there being a goodly number of lawyers on the MD Anderson payroll already.
Second, when will the open positions throughout the academic leadership ranks be filled and how will excellence and leadership in science and clinical care be assured? Those award recipients stood on the shoulders of giants who came before them. Who are the giants of tomorrow, Dr. Pisters? Have you hired them? Who is leading their departments?
Third, what is the current state of space utilization on campus? Is lab space in short supply thus affecting the ability to recruit new chairs? How many of the 20,000+ employees are still working from home and what happened to the space they previously occupied on campus? Can it be repurposed?
Finally, I would love to hear how Dr. Pisters plans to make an impact on cancer survival and treatment in the next five to ten years. Dr. DePinho was not shy in this regard. He was going to cure cancer. That may be a little precocious, but still the plan for moving forward needs to be made public and both it and those who will implement it have to be credible. There is a major lack of credibility on the top of the current MD Anderson organizational chart.
Why Dr. Pisters chose not to address this at the Convocation, only he knows. Of course, I am not really sure he wrote his own remarks. He seemed to be seeing them for the first time.
The Convocation did a great job of illustrating MD Anderson’s past greatness and present all-stars. What’s on tap for tomorrow? That’s the job of the president. What’s his vision for that future—if he has one?