Chapter 15: Serving as Special Assistant to Dr. Oliver Bogler

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Chapter 15: Serving as Special Assistant to Dr. Oliver Bogler

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In this segment, Dr. Tomasovic talks about his role as Special Assistant to the Provost. Dr. Tomasovic begins by describing the transition-support role he will serve in the coming year, assisting Dr. Oliver Bogler, who took over Dr. Tomasovic’s position as Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs. He discusses how he and Dr. Bogler are finding ways to link activities in Academic Affairs to the mission of the new MD Anderson president, Dr. Ronald DePinho. He gives examples of how he and Dr. Bogler are streamlining the bureaucracy of Academic Affairs to help faculty and graduate students as well as supporting Dr. DePinho’s mission.

Publication Date

11-11-2011

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Institutional Change; Post Retirement Activities; The Administrator; Institutional Processes; Overview; Understanding the Institution; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Dr. Tomasovic officially retired at the end of August, is that correct?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

That's correct.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And he is now a special assistant to the provost, and that contract is lasting for approximately one year.

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Yeah. And this is what's called a modified service appointment, and the University of Texas system, tenured professors can retire for a month, and come back and work up to 20% effort and still draw their retirement. If you work more than that, you can't draw your retirement, so this is used in some instances for clinical faculty to continue to provide some services. In other instances, for administrators it's used to help assure a smooth transition with the individual that's taking on their role, in this case Dr. Oliver Bogler has been appointed as the senior vice president for academic affairs, and over the next few months to a year I'll be helping him with questions, and also doing various tasks as directed by the provost. Right now I'm primarily supporting the actions of the promotion and tenure committees, so those meet on Fridays, and so that's primarily the day that I'm coming in.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And what are the issues that you're dealing with in that particular --

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Dr. Bogler had much familiarity with our promotion tenure, peer review process, and so -- and he also had a heavy travel schedule, and was appointed relatively close to the end of my departure, and so I'm sitting there in the role that I was sitting there previously, when Dr. Bogler's not in town, and when Dr. Bogler's in town and able to attend a meeting I'm there as an advisor to him. And so I interpret for the peer review committees any questions of policy, and generally help support the faculty chair of the committee and the conduct of the meeting.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Are there specific issues that are coming up with tenure and promotion that -- or is this kind of business as usual?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

It's business as usual. The -- every year the institution deals, has four appointment promotion and tenure committees. One for the school of health professions that just deals with those faculty. One that's composed of the executive committee of the science faculty, the science faculty department chairs primarily, that deals with the non-tenure track scientific appointments primarily. One called CFRC, or the clinical faculty review committee that deals primarily, or deals exclusively with the clinical faculty non-tenure tracks appointments. And then the PTC, or promotion and tenure committee, which deals with research and clinical appointments that award tenure and deal with renewal of tenure and that particular body will probably deal with 130-some new appointments, promotions, and initial awards of tenure, or renewals of tenure over the months between October and about May. Makes -- all the committees make recommendations to the president, the president makes the decision, and the actions take effect September One of next fall, so it's about a year long process of determining who gets awards of tenure, or renewal of tenure. Or promotions.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What else do you anticipate working on during the coming year?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

As I said, there are all sorts of questions. I just had a meeting for example with Dr. Bogler, we talked about various issues related to determining how he's going to organize the departments that formerly reported to me. Thoughts that he has about staffing changes, questions about various people and their capabilities. Some even philosophical discussions and strategy discussions about what Dr. DePinho will probably be looking for in the direction of the institution, and how academic affairs should respond to that, or can best respond to that. So you know, from small minutiae to broader strategic issues, I'm available by telephone and email all during the week. And I respond to emails during the week. But on Fridays, I'm available for meetings with him and others. So today for example, I had a meeting with him. I have this interview with you. At 3 o'clock this afternoon, Dr. DePinho is receiving a briefing from all the academic affairs leadership, and I'm sitting in on that meeting to see if there are any questions that come up. I'm also today supporting the meeting of the clinical faculty review committee, they're making a series of recommendations related to new assistant professor clinical appointments. And Larry Jones, the director of tele-health, has asked for a meeting today to discuss some questions that he has about audio-visual setup in some of the new buildings in the works. So it's various things. Dr. DuBois has also said he has some ideas for some other projects for me to do, and once of the things that are urgent that Dr. Bogler needs taken care of, once those begin to tail off, which I suspect will happen over the next three months or so, there will be less questions that he will have and less need that he will have for me. And Dr. DuBois has some thoughts about what he'll have me do next to help him, and -- but he hasn't shared the details of those with me yet.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

I'm interested in those conversations, the philosophical conversations about the directions that you're trying to dovetail academic affairs with Dr. DePinho's vision. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Sure. Dr. DePinho has -- is using a new phraseology in the institution, a cancer moon shot. And he gave a presidential town hall on November seventh that was video and audio taped, and the slides were shown as well, which he spoke to the institution in a town hall setting, and gave his vision for the institution, and he is I think going to bring a new sense of urgency and focus to the institution. And going to -- and in that kind of a climate, I was discussing with Dr. Bogler that my sense is that Dr. DePinho is going to react well to administrative units that solve problems, get to big problems, and solve them quickly. And are viewed as being enablers and facilitators rather than bureaucratic roadblocks. And so I suggested to him that many of the workflow processes in academic affairs could be examined to see how they're perceived by the faculty, and other areas of administration in the institution to see if some changes can be made. I also pointed out to Dr. Bogler, which is you know, no news to him, he was certainly aware of some of these things himself, that there was some long-term problems in the institution. For example, the on-boarding of new research faculty has historically been a slow and cumbersome bureaucratic process. And things, and it can take a new research faculty member three, four, five, six months before they really are effectively doing an experiment. And there's a host of units across the institution that have impacts on this. Just for example the fact that they can't order supplies and equipment until they get here. So they have to get here, and then they can begin to set up their laboratory. Even though we have committed to them you know, we have a process set up until -- that don't release account numbers to them until they're physically here. They can't get a computer pre-setup until they're physically here. Little things and large things. The difficulty of finding and hiring laboratory research personnel to support them. The timing associated with the appointment of post-doctorate research fellows. So there's a long list of things that can affect their ability to be effective quickly. And so I suggested to him you know, Dr. DePinho is talking about bringing people together, and focusing resources on -- he's talking about five critical cancers. You know and MD Anderson has a reputation as a very bureaucratic institution, and academic affairs is certainly part of that bureaucracy. What could Oliver pick out that would be kind of the mini moon shots that academic affairs could impact on that will help support what Dr. DePinho's trying to do? You know, how can we in academic affairs be seen as an effective unit that is going to enable him to move fast. He wants to you know, he's got a sense of urgency, he's got big visions, he's not going to be very tolerant over the longer run of organizational structures and unison activities that get in the way unnecessarily.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

What do you think will be the challenges of streamlining?

Stephen Tomasovic, PhD:

Well those sorts of things get built up over time, people get invested in them, they get used to them. They don't necessarily perceive the impact on users. And very well, they're not trained generally in process improvement. And don't generally have that kind of support. And we've been a risk averse organization, so if there's a -- a federal or a state, or a government regulation, or a law, we have tended to interpret that in the most risk averse way, which means the most bureaucratic controls and checks. And you know those things make it difficult to streamline bureaucracy, and try to think of ways that we can get to the same result with manageable risk, but make it more user-friendly and you know ask, do we really need to be doing this the way we've been doing it? What would happen if we didn't do it, you know if we dropped this out, is that critical? And so I think you know one of the advantages, and one of the reasons I wanted to retire was to enable someone with fresher viewpoints to come into a leadership role, and that person in turn would question things, and combined with a new president, I think it's a very opportune time for Oliver to demonstrate to the new president that he can fix some of the issues that you know, I either created or couldn't tackle, or didn't choose to tackle, or didn't perceive as being needed to be tackled. So I think those, that's the advantage. And he can you know, examine the staff that I had created, and the work flows I created in a fresh way. So I think that's all very positive, so I was discussing some of those sorts of issues with him, and encouraging him to sort of establish -- I think if he moves in that direction, he'll sit very well with the direction that the institution will be taking the mindset that the institution will be -- that Dr. DePinho will be trying to set into the culture of the institution. Changing cultures is difficult, but he's off to an extremely good start. And he's an inspirational individual, and I think if he has some early successes, he will be able to make some substantial changes to the culture here, and continue to take MD Anderson's reputation to a -- you know, maintain it and improve it.

Chapter 15: Serving as Special Assistant to Dr. Oliver Bogler

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