Beware The King Without A Court Or A President Without A Board

Beware The King Without A Court Or A President Without A Board


Leonard Zwelling

The essence of our tripartite federal system of government is that each of the three branches tends to serve as a check on the power of the other two. This division of labor between making the laws, enforcing the laws, and determining the constitutionality of the laws has served the United States well for almost 250 years. It’s all written down in that brilliant document, our Constitution. Without that document, we would not have done as well as we have—so far.

In May 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion not only declared the independence of the state of Israel, he pledged to have a written constitution by October. It never happened. Instead, Israel has a single chamber parliament, with the leader of that chamber serving as the country’s executive and the Supreme Court standing as the only check to the power of a majority, no matter how slim, in the Knesset. As the blog has been noting, the current right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu wants to weaken the power of the Supreme Court which could lead to an unchecked autocratic government in Jerusalem for the first time in 75 years. It is for this reason that thousands have been protesting in the streets of Israel against this weakening of judicial oversight. In the end, what Bibi wants is what the leaders in other former democracies like Poland and Hungary wanted—absolute, unchecked power. Unchecked power is never good and tends to negate the benefits of democracy, but autocrats like the absence of courts.

In the corporate world, how is the power of the executives of any publicly-traded company kept in check? That is the function of the corporate board. The board and its chair have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders of the company to maximize the value of the company and keep the day-to-day leadership honest. Obviously, this was among the breakdowns that spelled the end for Enron.

My point here is that well run systems have checks and balances in them and those checks and balances are built into the fiber of the business or governmental entity. People being people, it is always a good idea to have an independent someone or someones minding the store so that overzealous leaders don’t decide that they and the corporate or governmental entity they lead are one and the same. This is, after all, pretty much what happened with Richard Nixon who really seemed to believe that, as he told David Frost, “if the President does it, it is not illegal.” Above all, Watergate was about hubris and the downfall of Donald Trump was certainly hubris driven although he may well make a comeback. After all, Nixon did—the first time.

One area of human endeavor where checks and balances are sometimes missing is academia. Most universities have governing boards and some actually do oversee what the president and his minions are up to. As we have recently seen at Texas A & M, presidents can really make a mess of things like hiring of faculty leadership.

The University of Texas has a Board of Regents, but for the life of me, I never really understood whether or not they exercised a fiduciary role in the oversight of the university. I am quite sure they do not do so at MD Anderson. And, what is so different about MD Anderson is that it has no other board overseeing the behavior, progress, strategy, or integrity of the leadership team.

After twenty or so years of really questionable leadership at the University of Texas cancer center, one would think that perhaps the Board of Regents would take the time to find out what is happening with the well-being of the faculty of the Houston campus and perhaps ask a few questions about the mental health of their most important asset at MD Anderson, the faculty.

Inherent in the structure of MD Anderson is a lesion. The president is really a king. His power goes unchecked. When the president is benevolent, as was Dr. LeMaistre, this tends to work out well. Now, not so much.

The solution to this problem is obvious. The Board of Regents needs to develop a mechanism to either really oversee the cancer center, or create a local board to which the president answers. This blog favors the latter.

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:

2 thoughts on “Beware The King Without A Court Or A President Without A Board”

  1. Boards need a diverse composition of employers at EVERY level of the organization and WITHOUT any close personal relationship with the CEO or President. That ideal seldom happens since CEOs and Presidents are clever at building their autonomy and power. But, without a meaningful Board, the organization will slip.

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