In The New York Times Magazine on December 25, Jody Rosen describes the seemingly new, but actually old, form of protest—hoisting a blank white sheet of paper in the air on the end of a pole. It re-emerged in China after a high-rise fire left ten people dead who were thought to have perished because of the government’s strict Covid restrictions. Since, this form of blank protest has metastasized throughout China.
The use of empty messaging actually dates back to 1924 and a Krakow newspaper publishing a blank supplement in protest of censorship. It also was used in the 1960’s in protest of many governmental crack-downs. An empty sign conveys a powerful message. What is left unsaid is indeed said loudly.
This brings me to my favorite subject, the current state of affairs at the world’s number one place for cancer care—so far, MD Anderson.
There is no doubt in my mind after conversations with many faculty, that the current state of faculty wellness at MD Anderson is at an all-time low. This is a direct result of some of the worst leadership in the history of the institution, which, after Dr. DePinho, is saying something. Not only is the newish president inept and whatever the opposite of a visionary is, his team is lackluster being a combination of new non-entities and DePinho holdovers with few accomplishments despite reasonable credentials.
One of the most important jobs that Dr. Pisters took on after he became president was to erase the memory of Dr. DePinho and his Friends of Ron DePinho, the FORDs. Instead, he promoted them. Academic leadership positions go unfilled as the number of vice president seems to expand exponentially. Everybody must be a supervisor, because it seems no one is doing any work except the rank and file faculty and staff. Combine that with the insipid Pisters tweets and inane email messages and you have the formula for an MD Anderson melt-down.
Then there’s the fear. Every faculty member is looking over his or her shoulder wondering when a nurse or technician will report them as being unprofessional, thus ending a promising or established career. It’s happened way too often. This drive for putative professionalism and diversity is all psychobabble nonsense to cover the fact that Pisters has no real ideas about being MD Anderson president. But, the fear is real and valid. So, what to do?
It is the proposal of this blog that every faculty member at MD Anderson cover his or her name on his or her name badge with blank, white tape. This is just a small gesture, but should Dr. Pisters actually visit a clinic or lab, or meet a faculty member below the rank of Division Head, perhaps he would see the quiet, blank revolution his poor leadership has inspired without anyone saying a word.
This would be a small, silent protest that indicates the state of unhappiness of the faculty with its leadership. It’s small, but the Zero Covid policy was lifted in China and the blank protest signs led the way. Become nameless—you are anyway—for now.