Chapter 21: Current Administrative Appointments

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Chapter 21: Current Administrative Appointments

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Description

Dr. Bruner first talks about her new (one month) position as an Ombudsman, describing how she got the position and her role in creating a confidential environment for faculty and staff to talk about work issues before they approach Human Resources, Legal, or undertake a grievance process. She notes some of the issues that staff bring and describes special issues for the faculty. She next talks about her involvement with the Women Faculty Leadership Group and their aims to raise the profile of women and their involvement at higher levels of administration. She then speaks about her experience on the Promotion and Tenure Committee, describing the challenges of creating criteria applicable to faculty in many different fields. At the end of the interview, Dr. Bruner notes Dr. DePinho's enthusiasm and focus and her optimism for the institution.

Identifier

BrunerJM_02_20120607_C21

Publication Date

6-7-2012

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - The Administrator; The Administrator; Contributions; Understanding the Institution; Institutional Processes; Career and Accomplishments; MD Anderson in the Future; Leadership; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion

Transcript

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

But did you—I’ve recently taken a position as a part-time ombudsman here.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I did see that on the list. Tell me about that.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Oh, my time as a chair served me so well to get ready for that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Talk about conflict resolution!

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I was going to say—

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Ombudsman work is early conflict resolution, and it’s a lot of coaching.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why did you want to take that one?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

You know, I had become very interested in coaching and faculty development, and the position became available. I really didn’t think too much about it. I saw it come across the email, and it’s like, “Oh, okay. Fine.” I didn’t know much about what the ombudsman did. One of the current ombudsmen knew me—I had known him for years—and he sent me an email and said, “I wondered if you saw this ad for the position, because we thought you would be great for this.” So I thought—I said, “Well, let me look into it.” I went on a website and sort of figured out what they did—because I really didn’t know—and once I did, I decided that it was sort of right up my alley. Even at—after I stepped down as chair, I’ve done a lot of mentoring and coaching of faculty in our division who come to me for advice and want some coaching. I thought, “Well, this is a way that maybe I can extend that and affect more people throughout the institution.” I actually had a person call me the day it was announced. Another faculty—high-level faculty member—called and said, “I think I want to talk to you in your ombudsman role.” And I said—“Wow!” I had about a two-and-a-half hour conversation on the phone with the person, and it’s early, so I’ve got to follow up and see what’s going on, but they said, “I wasn’t really sure I wanted to talk to an ombudsman, and I have to say, if it had been anybody but you I wouldn’t have trusted them.” That made me feel really good.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What are some of the issues that are circulating that come to the Ombudsman’s Office?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

A lot of the ombudsman—the most frequent is conflict with a peer or with a supervisor, and that’s not speaking so much for faculty but across the board, and it’s something that I hope more employees can be encouraged to access before they go to HR, because it’s an unofficial channel. So before they go to HR, before they go to Compliance, before they go to Legal, we can listen to their problem, and sometimes it helps them a lot to just talk and lay it out in a logical sequence. Sometimes they just want some hints about how I can talk to the other person. And we don’t reveal anything. All the conversations are totally private and confidential. We will talk to the person that they’re having the conflict with if they give us permission, but otherwise we will not. We don’t even reveal who came to see us in the ombudsman office. So sometimes they’ll say—like—somebody will call and say, “Hey, did so-and-so ever come and talk to you about this problem they were having?” and we have to say, “I’m sorry, we can’t tell you if they came or not.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s really important.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Oh, it is. The fact that it is a place of trust and confidentiality really makes people feel very secure when they’re there. We want them to feel secure and comfortable. It gives them a chance to both blow off steam and just figure out some ways that they might be able to approach their situation. It’s really a good thing, I think.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What are some issues that arise for faculty? You said this conflict with peers or supervisors is really among employees.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Faculty have conflicts with chairs. “My chair doesn’t understand me,” or, “The workload’s not being distributed fairly,” or, “I feel like my chair’s trying to get rid of me. What can I do?” or, “Somebody’s doing something to me, and I don’t know”—and there, I think a lot of it is communication. Sometimes it’s just that people are just not communicating with each other. They’re missing each other. I’ve only been doing it a month so I can’t really give you a lot of experience, but it is I think a lot of coaching—trying to give people some alternatives. For classified employees, a lot of it is letting people know what their alternatives are. “You could go to HR, and this will happen,” or, “If you take it to the employee assistance program, this will happen”—just letting them know.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I didn’t go through everything on my list, but we’re at 3:30. I don’t want to abuse your time but if you’d like to take a few minutes—

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I’ve got a couple more—a few more minutes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. That would be fine. There were a number of things you—you talked about the Faculty Leadership Academy, and then you have also been part of the Women Faculty Leadership Group from 2008 until the present. Is that still the case?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Right. Dr. [Elizabeth] Travis [Oral History Interview], who’s the head of Women Faculty Programs, has a group of chairs and division heads that she meets with once a month and I think it’s been an interesting group to try to—what we try to do is think of ways that we can raise both the profile and the influence of women in the institution. She sponsors programs sometimes, and it’s a good peer group for—of course, when we started there weren’t—we didn’t start that early, but when we started there weren’t that many chairs. We realized that more and more chairs were being added that are women, and now we have a division head. We have a deputy division head.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

This is a good thing.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What are some of the activities that you’ve pushed forward with that group?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I think we’ve done some seminars. She had some seminars. People come in and do something on strategic planning, different communication skills, conversations, what are the different communication styles between men and women. We’re doing one coming up in July on behavioral interviewing—how to interview people and really ferret out whether they’re going to fit with the job here at MD Anderson.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. I’ve never even heard that term before.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Oh, it’s big. Behavioral interviewing is big. Yeah. What else do they call it? The consulting firm that’s done some seminars for us calls it “targeted selection.” So you make sure that the person has the leadership and behavioral skills to do the job that you’re looking for. If it’s a chair, do they have conflict resolution skills? Do they have mentoring skills? Do they have change management skills? Are they a process-oriented person? Can they delegate, or are they a micromanager?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

It makes so much sense. I’m smiling because it always seemed like the selection—in the old days, the selection of a department chair was who needed the bump in salary or who was the person not in the room.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

The way we’ve done it here—and I think traditionally in academic medicine—is who’s the best researcher who’s got the most grants, or who’s the best clinician, and you know what? That may have no relationship to whether they can actually manage people, especially if they’re a great researcher, because that’s an individual trait.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

It is. It is. Where did this desire to—? You have ended up being extremely involved in official ways in mentoring people and helping them develop leadership skills, but it seemed like even very early when you were talking about your first experiences at MD Anderson you were very interested in these issues.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m wondering, where did that come from?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I don’t know. I don’t know where it came from. I guess at some point I must have seen people who didn’t have these skills, or I’ve seen styles of management that the thing I learned from those is that I didn’t want to be like that, and I’ve made every effort not to. I guess that’s it, and sometimes those styles sort of were around me, but I wasn’t directly affected by them. But I still observed and I realized that you can learn a lot by observing the way you don’t want to be.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

(laughing) Yes. There are a couple others on the list here. You are also Special Advisor to Faculty Development?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I’m working with them, and so they wanted to give me a title.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

A title. Oh.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I’m doing that about twenty percent or twenty-five percent time now.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What is that role as special advisor?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Well, it’s the Faculty Leadership Academy and—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. So that’s part of it. Interesting.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Right. It’s so that the director of Faculty Development can call me up and say, “Hey, can you help me out with this?” and I feel like I have to say yes—which I would anyway and it’s sort of to legitimize—so that the department or division can’t say, “Oh, you can’t go do that anymore,” or, “We need you here at that time.” Because she can say, “Yeah, but twenty-five percent of your time is supposed to be here.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

There you go. They own you.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Not that they would. Not that it would happen that way.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Then also, you’ve been a member of the Faculty Mentoring Advisory Committee.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

That’s also with—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is it affiliated to the—

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Yeah. That’s also with Faculty Development.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. It’s interesting because they’re all just really different facets—from official, how are we going to raise the profile of women in the institution to then the Academy, which is let’s deliver products that help people learn how to get better at this.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

To how do we help people who are on the faculty now and well established in their careers help bring up the people who are coming down the pipeline?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So that’s really great. And you were also a former member and chair of the Promotion and Tenure Committee from 2004 to 2006.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

That really taught me a lot, and I think that’s very helpful. A lot of the advising of faculty that I do is about the promotion process. What do I need to get promoted? What am I missing? What do I have? What’s going to make it hard or easy for me? And service on the Promotion and Tenure Committee is the most valuable way. We do have written criteria, but they’re a little nebulous because they have to cover a breadth of faculty. They have to cover an anesthesiologist and a neurosurgeon—they do very different things—and a basic research scientist. So it’s very helpful to see—to live with the committee and see—it’s a committee of eighteen people evenly divided between basic scientists and clinicians. Everyone is tenured on that committee, and it’s very educational to see how people in different departments and different walks of the faculty think about tenure and promotion and how they believe these criteria should be applied to people. And as the chair, people think, “Oh, that’s the most powerful position in the institution, chair of the promotions committee.” No, that’s like herding cats. So it’s like my job was to keep them focused and going forward that day and also to keep them looking at the criteria. It’s very important. We stress how we don’t want to compare one candidate to another that’s coming up for promotion. Each candidate coming up for promotion must be compared to the criteria. Do they meet the criteria, do they exceed the criteria, or do they fail to meet the criteria? Because there’s such a diversity of faculty here that if you start comparing the surgeon to the basic scientist, it just doesn’t work. Yeah, basic scientist with five publications in Nature and four in PNAS and then a surgeon with two publications in Cancer—that’s an exaggeration—but who invented a new surgical instrument and has saved lives and driven his field forward. How do you compare those? So you have to go back to the criteria and the criteria address—they’re general enough that they will address both situations.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So you believe in those criteria? You think they’re—?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I think the criteria are really—they’ve been in place and been revised. We revise them periodically, but they’ve served us very well. They’ve served us very well. They were sort of tuned up. I think the last major revision was about in 2007 or 2008, so it’s been a while, and every time we have a new president, he thinks about it a little bit differently, so I expect that within the next couple of years we may have another revision. But I don’t think Dr. [Ronald] DePinho’s going to be so different from Dr. Mendelsohn. I think they’re very similar in their feelings about the faculty and the promotions and the criteria.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What’s your impression about how Dr. DePinho is going to lead the institution into the next phase?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

I don’t know. I think it remains to be seen. He’s very enthusiastic and very focused, and that’s a great thing. Enthusiasm is what I remember about Dr. Mendelsohn, too, when he started. So that’s—you’ve got to be a cheerleader. There’s got to be substance there, but you really have to be tireless and just working and cheering and hyping people for MD Anderson, and I think he can do that. He’s a very enthusiastic guy, and he’s very, very focused. He’s focused on curing cancer, and that’s why we’re here.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

No, I think that’s it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

All right. I want to thank you very much for your time.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Thank you. It’s been exhaustive—and exhausting.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

A good reason to go have another Dr. Pepper.

Janet M. Bruner, MD:

Yeah!

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

All right. It is twenty minutes of 4:00, and I’m turning off the recorder. (End of Audio Session 2)

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Chapter 21: Current Administrative Appointments

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