Inept Leadership

Inept Leadership


Leonard Zwelling

Readers of this blog know that I do not have a whole lot of respect for the current leadership of MD Anderson. I didn’t have much for the DePinho Administration either and many of the current crew are holdovers still trying to get it right.

First, many of them do not have the professional qualifications for the jobs they hold.

Second, they have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to make clear judgments as to matters of great importance to the faculty such as professionalism, shared governance, and burnout.

Now we have the on-going saga of Dr. Lin, the young faculty member, up against the giant of administrative power, Dr. Sharma, in an argument over academic credit for a research idea and subsequent observations in publications as well as charges of plagiarism on the part of Dr. Sharma.

In this tussle that has been on-going since 2021, MD Anderson chose to farm out the determination of authorship to an outside law firm who, of course, sided with Dr. Sharma, professor and wife of a Nobel laureate. Cleverly, Dr. Lin employed a better judge of research misconduct, Dr. Alan Price, a former member of the federal Office of Research Integrity who this blogger knows well and can vouch for his expertise and, dare I say it, integrity. Dr. Price found no supporting evidence of plagiarism by Dr. Lin. Questions of inappropriate behavior and bullying by Dr. Sharma have yet to be addressed by a third party in or out of MD Anderson as far as the public record goes.

So now it appears we have dueling experts in a case that is clearly one of alleged research misconduct that should have been handled by the institutional Research Integrity Officer, not an outside law firm. The blame for this I put squarely at the feet of Dr. Pisters whose answer to most quandaries is the use of an outside law firm. Given the vast number of lawyers at his disposal who he is already paying as well as a well-defined policy to handle allegations of research misconduct internally, I have to conclude that the leadership of MD Anderson is fully inept and has now allowed this dispute to spill into Harris County court simply because the leadership could not resolve what should have been a relatively straight-forward problem.

I served as the Research Integrity Officer for MD Anderson from 1995 through 2007. I weathered several re-writes of the policy that governs allegations for research misconduct and how inquiries and investigations ought to go. The processes are faculty controlled as they involve the faculty uniquely most of the time. Involving outside attorneys who are being paid by the institution guarantees that the attorneys will side with the institution. They are hardly unbiased arbiters of the truth.

I suggest that Dr. Pisters start over again with the institutional Research Integrity Officer. If that person cannot get this done, replace that person with someone who can. In 12 years, I never needed the resources of an outside law firm to resolve the various misconduct allegations I had to handle.

This is another example of a president unfit for his job who has appointed people equally ill-equipped to govern the faculty let alone oversee shared governance.

This is admittedly hard stuff. But it’s not impossible. And if it appears to be impossible, get people in place who are capable of doing it.

This is a clear case of power imbalance between a noted senior faculty member and an early career junior faculty member. Only other senior faculty should be adjudicating the issues here. That Dr. Pisters brought in an outside law firm is a clear indictment of his administrative infrastructure let alone his personal judgment. Changes are needed.

This case went way to far down the tracks because those in charge did not know what to do. Get people in place who do.

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