“That Is Not My Dog”: The Faculty Awards Convocation 2024

“That Is Not My Dog”: The Faculty Awards Convocation 2024


Leonard Zwelling


Please watch this video. It is classic Peter Sellers, but more importantly it makes a critical point.

Sellers clearly is having a terrible time communicating with the hotel clerk, but manages to relate his need for a room. Then he passes the dog and assumes it belongs to the clerk whose dog “does not bite.” Sellers is bitten.

“You said your dog does not bite.”

“That is not my dog,” says the clerk.

When in a difficult communication situation make no assumptions and know with clarity what is possible. And, know what is not yours.

No one I know does this better than my wife, Genie Kleinerman.

Her skill in navigating the lanes of the academic swimming pool is unmatched. It was on full display when she, as the current chair of the Faculty Senate, made her address at the annual awards convocation on May 2.

Here are some of her points:

Academic medicine is in trouble. To improve the lot of academicians and to protect academic medical institutions will require more than just optimism. It will require hope and a joint effort between faculty and administration where each understands the pressures the other is under.

There are external forces on the administration—financial and political.

There are external forces on the faculty—increased patient numbers, the electronic medical record, grants funding, and the constant need to publish.

The administration needs to understand that these pressures are exhausting and frustrating the faculty.

The faculty needs to understand the pressures on leadership to keep the financial ship afloat and heed the political imperatives coming from Austin.

To make progress and stop the decline of academic medicine will take energy and action “to make things better.” But that’s what faculty do anyway, all the time—provide hope.

After all, in the history of MD Anderson, it is the faculty and its work that has been the engine of discovery and the administration needs to seek the input of the faculty in those decisions made to address the financial and political pressures on the institution. The faculty can help. It always has.

Dr. Kleinerman went on to cite two recent examples.

Senate Bill 18 allows for the summary dismissal of faculty for “unprofessional behavior.” But unprofessional behavior has yet to be defined so the Faculty Senate initiated a task force to work with the administration to “define the expectations” of the faculty.

Second, in response to the financial pressures, a proposal is wafting through the institution to expand clinic hours as a means to generate additional revenue. It is assumed that this might entail the start of Saturday clinics. Rather than assume anything, the Faculty Senate has created another task force to work with the administration to sort out these pressures and the wisdom and cost of expanding clinic hours. The very first question has to be, will seeing the next patient cost more than the revenue the encounter generates?

Her point is a simple one, but it appears that her persistence in emphasizing the point to the administration has been both necessary and successful. This has been done with the continuous effort of the elected faculty representatives to the Senate.

Whether or not shared governance has been accepted by the powers in Austin, the reality is that the efforts of the Faculty Senate and its leadership have begun to make shared governance a reality at MD Anderson. This is likely to better the lives of faculty and administration alike and in that, preserve what is good about academic medicine before it is lost to cynicism and central authority.

I urge you to view Genie’s speech on the Faculty Senate web site when it is posted soon and consider the wisdom of knowing what is and what is not “my dog.”

The well-being of academic medicine at MD Anderson is the “dog” of the Faculty Senate. And make no mistake about it, neglecting the task of insisting on shared governance will only serve to “bite” the institution as a whole.

Genie has shown the way to convincing the administration that their financial and political exigencies are also those of the Faculty Senate. The work goes on, but does so on new footing.

When Genie finished her speech, she shook the hands of the executive leaders on the stage. She means it. This is a shared mission of hope. Whether academic medicine can be salvaged at other institutions around the country is not the dog of the Faculty Senate of MD Anderson. Preserving academic medicine at MD Anderson is.

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