Is There Such A Thing As “The Faculty”?


Is There Such A Thing As “The Faculty”?


Leonard Zwelling

In the April 22 issue of The Wall Street Journal, author Joseph Epstein writes about the slipshod way in which politicians invoke “the American People” in their rhetoric. The use of the term “the American people” implies that all of the over 330 million of us think alike. We don’t. As Epstein says, “the problem is in determining who these American people really are, especially with our country clearly divided.” In fact, it is hard to even get a majority of Americans thinking any one way on any given issue, whether it’s abortion rights, gun rights, voting rights, or even civil rights.

The same may be true for any academic faculty. “The faculty” implies a monolithic group of faceless people, when in fact each faculty member is different from every other one making ascertaining what ”the faculty” desires quite difficult to determine.

The reason this becomes a challenge is that faculties at many academic institutions including medical campuses are faced with a series of issues that could be addressed best if a consensus could be reached AND articulated by a representative faculty body. The number one issue facing faculty is self-governance or shared governance with administrative leadership who often are selected without meaningful faculty input. Presidents of universities, deans, vice presidents, and chancellors are often selected by appointed boards or other leaders with not even a nod to faculty desires about what kind of leadership is best suited to the challenges of every day faculty life—tenure, patient volumes, electronic medical records, diversity requirements, trigger warnings, burnout, and censorship. It should come as no surprise then that academic leadership can quickly become at odds with rank-and-file faculty over who determines how life will be lived in the halls of academia by those in the trenches in classrooms, laboratories, and clinics.

MD Anderson is not immune to the errors of those who think the faculty is monolithic or to the leaders who think the faculty are just another group of employees. The faculty at Anderson is neither all of one mind nor the same as the rest of the employees despite the desire of Dr. Pisters for “One MD Anderson.”

The role of the faculty in an academic medical center is unique. Faculty members generate the value of the enterprise by caring for patients, doing science, and teaching the next generation of potential faculty members. It is ludicrous to imagine that they think alike and just as ludicrous to believe that all faculty carry equal passion about some of these issues to their work. There are undoubtedly faculty who think working at MD Anderson is peachy and life could not get better. But there are many more, as indicated by recent surveys, who indicate that they are “burning out” and are considering leaving the institution. The latter implies that there are some who think the grass really is greener elsewhere. I frankly don’t know. When I looked at jobs at other institutions while I was at MD Anderson, I rarely made second visits as I perceived things to be worse at the potential new job site than they were at Anderson. Then again, I had a series of great bosses at Anderson who allowed me to grow and thrive.

I cannot be certain that this is the case now. Of course, as I have said, the faculty is not monolithic. There are those fully content with their work situation, but many who are not. I only urge that any faculty work through their elected representative faculty government when interacting with leadership which is anything but representative.

What Israel is struggling with now is how to make their court system both responsive and representative in the face of the country being a democracy with no constitution and one in which the executive and legislative power is centered in a unicameral elected body, the Knesset, and the judges are selected by appointed bodies of lawyers and judges. No matter which side of this issue you are on, the current arrangement is not optimal. It’s time for a constitutional convention in Israel.

MD Anderson is better off. It has a full set of by-laws for its elected, representative Faculty Senate that serves as the voice of the faculty when dealing with the unelected administration of an anointed president. Now, it is up to all of the faculty to express their individual opinions to their elected representatives and for those representatives to come to consensus and speak with one voice to the administration, as challenging as that might be. There is no room for passivity among the Anderson faculty or among the American people. Neither body agrees on everything. Maybe neither body agrees on anything. But surely the members of both groups can agree on making their voices heard holding their leaders accountable for the state of their day-to-day lives.

“The American people” should be outlawed as a phrase to be used by politicians. “The faculty” may be as fraught a phrase, but the faculty has a better mechanism to express itself than does the American people. That voice is the Faculty Senate. Use your voice.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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