Steps Toward Making Censure History at MD Anderson?

Just over a month after being censured by the AAUP annual meeting, the administration of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center took steps toward instituting a shared governance model and improving academic due process.

The Cancer Letter reported this past Friday that UT System Chancellor William McRaven directed MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho in a July 23 letter to move, in light of “years of turmoil and plunging [faculty] morale,” from “a strong top-down flow of authority” to a “democratic system” of governance. Specifically, McRaven, a former U.S. Navy admiral who served as commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command for three years immediately prior to his appointment as Chancellor in 2014, instructed DePinho to establish a shared governance committee to serve as an advisory body to the President. The committee will include the heads of the Cancer Center’s divisions, unspecified “senior executives,” and the chair, chair-elect, and immediate past chair of the Faculty Senate.

One of the problems McRaven raised in his letter to DePinho is the “perception that there is an inadequate appeals process for rejections of promotion and tenure requests.” (Tenure, as the AAUP defines it, does not exist at MD Anderson; instead, faculty are on renewable seven-year “term tenure” appointments.) McRaven’s highlighting of the promotion and tenure appeals process appears to be a direct response to the cases of Professors Kapil Mehta and Zhengxin Wang, who were denied new contracts by President DePinho after their reappointments had been unanimously recommended by the 11-member Promotion & Tenure Committee. DePinho subsequently refused to provide a written rationale for disagreeing with the committee’s recommendations, although Professor Wang did receive this laughable “explanation” in a letter from interim provost and executive vice president Thomas Buchholz: “The reasons for nonrenewal are that your renewal of term tenure was not approved.” Wang was not afforded the opportunity to appeal the decision either. Mehta was allowed to appeal, and the appeals committee found in his favor. The decision was concealed from him, however, and DePinho promptly overruled it. According to McRaven’s five-page July 23 letter to DePinho, there is now in place “an advisory review to the president when he or she disagrees with a unanimous favorable vote of the promotion and tenure committee,” although this new process has not yet needed to be used.

President DePinho and Professor Gary Whitman, chair of the Faculty Senate, jointly announced the establishment of the shared governance committee in an August 14 email to the Cancer Center’s faculty. Hopefully, the administration’s moves toward improving academic due process and instituting a shared governance model indicate that it is actively working toward getting itself removed from the AAUP censure list.

2 thoughts on “Steps Toward Making Censure History at MD Anderson?

  1. This news is a good reminder of the power of the AAUP, and of censure. It’s interesting to note that the M.D. Anderson story is mentioned in the recently released emails at the University of Illinois about the Salaita case. Nicholas Burbules wrote to Phyllis Wise on August 5, 2014, sending her “a copy of the letter UT sent to AAUP. It contains a list of questions about AAUP review processes, asking AAUP to respond with information and justifications. It is a decidedly skeptical take on AAUP’s authority to conduct these reviews and to “censure” campuses that don’t suit their standards. My own take is that AAUP’s big push into union organizing has undermined their credibility as an impartial advocate for academic principles and procedures. And I think that is very sad. But it might become relevant to our situation.” Obviously, Burbules felt that M.D. Anderson’s letter was undermining the AAUP’s credibility, and in this matter, as in so many others, he was very wrong.

  2. Pingback: Governance Violations + Financial Failure + Layoffs = Presidential Bonus | ACADEME BLOG

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.