Chapter 18: Transitions under Ronald DePinho: Creating Shared Governance

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Chapter 18: Transitions under Ronald DePinho: Creating Shared Governance

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In this chapter, Dr. Hicks describes events of Spring and Summer of 2015 that marked the turning point in the institutional response to the institutional turbulence under Dr. DePinho. The Faculty Senate and the Division heads had been advocating for more of role in decision making, and the situation had become serious enough that UT System Chancellor McCraven visited in the spring. The Faculty Senate issued a White Paper (https://cancerletter.com/articles/20150713_1/) outlining issues underlying low faculty morale. Chancellor McCraven issued an invitation for a group of three members of the Executive Committee and three division heads to come to Austin to discuss the White Paper. This meeting led directly to the formation of the shared governance model. Dr. Hicks describes the mood of the meeting and the impact of the chancellor stepping in.||Next, Dr. Hick talks about the first actions taken by the newly formed Shared Governance Committee: addressing issues of confidentiality of meetings, defining committee identity and principles, and creating a strategic plan from the Faculty Senate White Paper. He notes that the committee divided into two (informal) groups: one was committed to looking at issues of culture and communication and the other more focused on the scientific and clinical activities at the institution. The concerns of the first group were eventually dropped by the SGC, however Dr. Hicks, who was part of the group, says they continued meeting to discuss how the climate of the institution could be changed to stress how people come together and work together to save the institution.||Next, Dr. Hicks talks about the impact of McChrystal Group in 2016. Dr. Hicks explains how he became aware of the book, Team of Teams, by General Stanley McChrystal, who was then invited to MD Anderson to speak when the SCG was still new. The Committee encouraged the institution to invite McChrystal associates to evaluate MD Anderson. Dr. Hicks explains that their four page assessment of the institution was on target and spurred concerned work [document in Supplementary Materials]. At this point, he says, people really began to come together. He also notes that at this point, the people working on institutional change began to realize the stakes of what they were doing.

Identifier

HicksM_04_20180724_C18

Publication Date

7-24-2018

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Leadership; On Leadership; MD Anderson Culture; Working Environment; The Business of MD Anderson; The Institution and Finances; Overview; Building/Transforming the Institution; Growth and/or Change; Obstacles, Challenges; Institutional Politics; Controversy; Ethics; Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson; MD Anderson History; MD Anderson Snapshot; Portraits

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

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

Transcript

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Now you talked about Epic. Then there’s the key summer that you were mentioning, before Epic went into place, when there was a number of things going on.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

A new chancellor.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

A new chancellor.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Yeah, 2015. So the morale, I think we got off on the morale conversation.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. So tell me more about that and how it led to the resignation [of Ronald DePinho, MD] in 2017.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think there was the Faculty Senate very active at that time, trying to advocate for more involvement in institutional decision making. The same thing was happening with the division heads, of wanting to be helpful, wanting to be more involved, wanting to bring what expertise we could. The chancellor came over for a visit, I believe in the spring of ’15 and met with all the different groups. Out of that came, concurrently, a White Paper that the Faculty Senate was putting together, and their discussions with the chancellor on some of the issues that they thought concerning to them and that needed to be addressed at the institutional level. There was a variety of things, including things like grievance processes, involvement in governance, different things like that. So the chancellor, as a result of that, had a group come to Austin that summer. I want to say it was July of ’15. It was the three Faculty Senate leaders, three division heads. The Faculty Senate leaders were Ann Killary, Gary Whitman, and Julie Izzo. There were three division heads; Dave Tweardy [oral history interview], Steve Hahn, and me. Then Tom Buchholz [oral history interview] and Ethan Dmitrovsky [oral history interview], the EVPs, came over. It was really to discuss what was in the White Paper and how to move forward at that point. The outcome of that discussion was a letter the chancellor wrote to both Gary Whitman, as the president of the Faculty Senate, and to Ron [DePinho; oral history interview], as president of the institution, directing the formation of a Shared Governance Committee which would have a specified roster of individuals that he actually listed, including the three leaders from the Faculty Senate, all the division heads, the EVPs and the president obviously, to be an advisory group to the president.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

What was the mood of that meeting?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

It was actually overall, positive. I think that between the division heads and the Faculty Senate leaders, there had already been some discussions that were ongoing, trying to improve that relationship. So it felt like we were starting to realize that we, by and large, all wanted the same thing. It’s a little bit different sometimes in terms of how a decision might be made or the tactical piece of it, but that we all wanted a fair grievance process. We all wanted a process where people could feel like they were engaged in the institution, that we had transparent policies when it came to things like travel policy and different things like that, that were understood. So I think it was overall positive. I think the difference a little bit was where a lot of the decision making may lie in terms of the actual—

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Was there something—I’m sorry, I cut you off.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think it was --the chancellor wanted to create a body that would be advisory to the president, that would be more inclusive of voices out in the institution that he felt weren’t being heard at the time.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, it seems pretty amazing that a chancellor would step in and ask for something like this to be done. What was the message that sent? What was the impact of having that happen at the institution. How did people receive that information?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

In general, it was well received, because the chancellor --him coming over and coming back over after this and directing. I remember he gave out his cell phone number and said he’s a patient here. He was very open about that. He cares a lot about the institution. Calls us the crown jewel of the UT System, a special place for him. I mean that he cares a lot about this place. I think generally, I believe because people perceived it was done out of caring and really wanting the institution to be as strong as it could be and be able to get back to our mission, as opposed to having a lot of the morale issues and other issues. He felt and I think all of us felt we’re not only draining, but probably distracting us from paying attention to the mission areas of the work that we wanted to continue doing here. So I think it was well received, I don’t remember hearing much negative about the perception of it. But clearly, it was a message that there’s concern, a serious concern about it, because for a chancellor to intervene like that, I think people felt like it was getting to a point where something different had to happen moving forward and we had to break, somehow be able to move past the distrust. I think that’s what the Shared Governance Committee was created for, is to really help bring people together. It was prescribed, but I think that was for a reason. When people get together and start talking and sharing and hearing one another, that it starts to melt away a lot of the biases, but also misunderstandings, things that—assumptions that aren’t necessarily true or the distrust of somebody’s motives, that you start to hear. Again, I think we started to realize, particularly with some of these specific issues that were brought up, that we really all wanted the same thing. So it was just, How do we go about it? How do we assign groups to really deal with all the issues, the tasks that were in front of us.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

We’re almost at our time today, but do you want to share a couple of those first—you know what were the priority things to work on for the Shared Governance Committee?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

As I recall, one of the first things was really defining who we were. We focused a lot on the—probably too much, on the confidentiality. There might be things discussed there that we couldn’t share outside. In reality, that became really rare.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think that with more perceived concern that it turned out to be. So there was a focus on that. It took a lot of energy at the time, making sure that we all—principles basically, that we had established. But then we moved on to issues that were in the White Paper. I can’t recall all of them, but I think there was a travel policy, a grievance policy, that people were dissatisfied with. Some pretty specific things actually, that were on a list. We basically just assigned those to different groups and had them working on them and bringing them back. We had a retreat. And had a retreat as well that dealt with the strategic plan process, as it was kind of culminating around that time, and bringing it there to talk about how to refine that a little bit more, to get it to a next step out of the things.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Now you’ve got kind of a smile on your face. What’s that about, as you’re remembering that.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Well, it was an interesting process because when we went into it, there was a group that really felt that culture, communication, and there was a third thing I’m blanking on right now, were important. It’s not all about the science and clinical care. So it was a bit of a tug back and forth about that. We felt like—and it kind of got shifted to where that got put to the side, and yet, there were several of us that felt like that was still very important. So that group actually continued to meet as an aside.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So an I understanding that you were part of a group that felt the culture—yeah, okay.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I was part of a group. We actually became the planning group for topics at the SGC, and so it was just kind of interesting how undirected … This group just collectively felt this is important, we can’t let this go, this is a real important key to success moving forward. The mission areas are great and our strategy in each of those is great. But it’s how we do it together and how we work together that we need to pay a lot of attention to as well. Because that’s the stuff that impacts morale and impacts our success and our ability to work together. That lived on. We met Wednesday afternoons to kind of plan for the next SGC meetings, and tried to keep that spirit alive that was, I think intended by the chancellor when he formed the group to begin with.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. Well it’s four, do you want to—is this a good place to stop today? One more thing?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

I think so, unless we want to cover the—yeah, no, I think it is a good place to stop actually. I think we covered that. I’ll think of the third thing.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay, all right, I’ll put a question mark on my notes.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

But, no that was it. I guess the other thing at some point, is bringing in the McChrystal Group. We can maybe divert back to that, because that was going on at the same time as well.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, no I had that on my list.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Because that was one of the things this subgroup dealt with as part of the culture thing, was we need help. I had brought General [Stanley] McChrystal in really through the division, to give—we bought Team of Teams, read it. It was Danielle’s playmate from crawling, worked for McChrystal, so that was the connection.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, okay.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Do you know Danielle?

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

No I don’t.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Danielle DiMonda.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m sorry, the last name?

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Hay now, H-A-Y. She and her best friend from tiny childhood, worked for McChrystal at the time, did events coordinating. I got the book Team of Teams, read Team of Teams, thought it would be great to get him in here because I think there’s some stuff that’s pretty applicable here. So we bought the book, 500 copies of whatever, distributed it to upper middle level management. He agreed to come, and spoke, and in the meantime, people got very excited about the book. People were commenting to me about how we need something like this. Then he came and then spoke to the Shared Governance Committee because he wanted to meet with the leadership team of the institution. It created a lot of enthusiasm. So what was going on in that same time period really. It was that summer of I guess—that was, that was a cycle later, that was ’16. Yeah, he spoke, I think in the spring of ’16. We’ll have to verify that.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s really interesting, I mean it shows that that book was really tapping into a need in the institution.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

He came and spoke to us when the Shared Governance Committee was still fairly new. So I think that it was maybe March 16, yeah it was around March 16th. The Shared Governance Committee was formed in the fall of ’15, so we were still trying to find our way through when he came to talk. As we continued to struggle with what’s our role as a Shared Governance Committee, and this subgroup started meeting, it was like we need some help to deal with some of these issues. Concurrently, Stan McChrystal offered to send two of his principals here to do an analysis over two to three weeks. To tell us what they saw and what they heard, and they nailed it. They came back with about a four-page overview. It was exactly what we all perceived we needed help with. That’s really what started to gain some steam, to bring the SGC together, because it was the SGC that advocated for bringing him in, to Ron, and Ron agreed. Anyway, that was the thing, I didn’t want to lose that. We can talk more about it next time, but that was a concurrent thing that was going on and from a timing standpoint, it kind of all converged.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Thanks for adding that and we’ll follow up on that next time.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Good.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Great.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Enjoyed talking to you again.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, yeah, very interesting, a tough time for the institution, nice to hear that there were very positive things going on.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

A lot of people came together. What was amazing to me was in particular, the division heads in the Faculty Senate leadership, really started to create a bond there where we realized that we had a lot of the same issues and wanted the same great things for the institution, and you know, we can work together on this. I think it was a matter of the reasonable people coming together. Julie Izzo was key in this, no question. I would definitely talk to her if you haven’t talked to her.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, yeah.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Talk about somebody that just showed exemplary leadership through this. It took people like that, willing to step up and be a part of helping us find our way through it as we all learned and grew together through it and were willing to kind of go down the road together. That was, I think something that came out of it that gets back to trust, where you start to develop that trust, and that was a breakthrough I think.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And also, I think willingness --I mean you were talking earlier about some leaders having this difficulty admitting that they don’t have expertise in an area. And who has expertise in dealing with something like this, you know, when you’re seriously learning on the job? So people coming together to go through that process together is really quite something. I’m sure it was sort of like an ‘in the trenches, brotherhood’ kind of mentality.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

It definitely was. That’s a good way to describe it and you know, the stakes got pretty high at one point and lasted for a while. I think that also helped bring people together, because you realize that this is not just—this isn’t trivial stuff. It became much bigger than the travel policy. It became about the future of the institution. We all found ourselves in that place together, realizing there’s only one way out, is to trust each other and work together.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Well, I’ll be interested to hear more about that, so thanks very much.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Thank you.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And just for the record, I’m turning off the recorder at eight minutes after four. Thank you, Dr. Hicks.

Marshall Hicks, MD:

Thanks.

Chapter 18: Transitions under Ronald DePinho: Creating Shared Governance

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