In his opinion piece in The New York Times on November 4, David Brooks clearly describes the forces that are pulling the United States apart. In essence, there are two camps in America.
As he says, “After all the campaigning and the money and the shouting, the electoral balance is still on a razor’s edge.” Why?
Brooks points to the massive chasm between the lives and life experiences of the college-educated and the non-college-educated. The efforts of the Democratic Party to win back the working-class whites and the Black and Hispanic voters is failing despite President Biden’s direct appeal to these voters. This is a culture war.
“Americans with a college education and Americans without a college education no longer have different ideas about, say, the role of government, they have rival ways of life…(they) have different relationships to patriotism and faith, they dress differently, enjoy different foods and have different ideas about corporal punishment, gender, and, of course, race.”
I believe Brooks’ analysis is dead on target and he goes on to add that the differences are accompanied by interclass animosity that he did not encounter when he addressed these issues twenty years ago. “Now people don’t just see difference, they see menace.”
I think that MD Anderson has become a microcosm of America with two different classes of people working there.
The first class is the leadership and its associated administration which seemingly have put a bonus on uniformity of behavior, the predominance of lawyers in the life of the cancer center, and a drive toward the external look of diversity and the associated outside awards for having a diverse workforce. The other class has kept its eye on the ball of the mission of eradicating cancer and chooses to largely ignore some of the nonsense propagated by the first class, to the extent possible. But it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the dominance of professionalism and the rule of HR in the life of both MD Anderson camps as each is perceiving the other as a menace. The first class has all the big offices and controls the flow of information to the ultimate overseers in Austin such that the overseers are not fulfilling their fiduciary duties to the cancer center at all.
Just as there are no easy solutions to the divisive animosity engulfing America, there may be no easy answers for what plagues MD Anderson. But here’s a thought.
A clear elucidation of the strategic plan of the MD Anderson president and some feedback from the faculty and staff (shared governance) as to whether Dr. Pisters’ vision for the future is shared by everyone else—if he has a plan. Further, the overseers in Austin need to assess the actual state of affairs on the ground at Anderson with regard to faculty and staff burnout and its causes. The results of the Faculty Workload survey of over 950 respondents make it clear that all is not well among the people who make up the most important and valuable asset of MD Anderson. The president should pledge to improve the results next year or consider a new line of work.
The political fabric of America is undergoing great stress. The forces tugging at one another that broke out into the open on January 6, 2021 have not gone away. In fact, they are infusing this election season with election deniers and those who threaten violence actually running for high office.
Similarly, the forces at MD Anderson that necessitated that the Faculty Senate communicate with Austin about the non-responsiveness of the president to its concerns have not abated. Things are worse in America as the election will probably show us and things are bad at MD Anderson as the Workload Survey indicated. Healing these rifts in the political fabric of the country and the cancer center will take great effort. If you want to see what happens when such rifts are ignored, wait until you see what happens in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government takes over with radical rightists in the mix.
Keep your eyes on Israel. As Tom Friedman notes, that could be us in 2024.