Chapter 09: Dr. LeMaistre’s Division System is a Framework to Develop Basic Sciences Research (1979/1980)


Chapter 09: Dr. LeMaistre’s Division System is a Framework to Develop Basic Sciences Research (1979/1980)



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In this chapter, Dr. Bowen talks about the leadership of Dr. Charles LeMaistre and institutional growth during the 19070s and 1980s. He also discusses the recruitment of top scientists and physicians to MD Anderson and state concerns that the institution not become “too academic.”



Publication Date



Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Building/Transforming the Institution; Growth and/or Change; Leadership; On Leadership; The Researcher; Research; Education; On Education; Education at MD Anderson; Beyond the Institution; MD Anderson and Government; The MD Anderson Brand, Reputation; MD Anderson Impact; MD Anderson Impact


James M. Bowen, PhD:

Well, in, I guess about 1978, 1979, he [Charles A. Lemaistre, MD (oral history interview)] came, and he began a gentle but pretty definite restructuring at the time, and one day, he called and asked if I could meet with him the following afternoon. He said, "I am also inviting Dr. Fred Becker to come up. Dr. Becker was the highly recruited" . . . Dr. Clark considered his recruitment a real coup from NYU to head up Pathology when, kind of the old-time head of Pathology, had retired. That was kind of a transition for me, too, because, in fact, it was that head of Pathology, Dr. W.O. Russell, that had become one of my friends, and I didn't know it until three years after I got there but he had actually forked up the money to allow Dr. Dmochowski to recruit me and to do that, I did some virological work on a grant that had to do with bovine cancer eye. And that is how I got to know David Anderson whom we mentioned because he was the geneticist on the project. An interesting piece of work. Very straightforward, classical virology. It turned out it had nothing to do with tumors but it was interesting. At any rate, I already had a close association with pathology for a variety of reasons, and the next day, Dr. Becker and I turned up in Dr. Lemaistre's office, and Dr. Lemaistre laid out for us a new organization for research in the institution as a part of a larger flow diagram of clinical divisions within which departments would exist, and there would be a division basically of basic science, and there would be a vice-president and an associate vice-president for research designed to administer and to grow and to redevelop . . . To clean up some nonproductive areas, to do some very, very concentrated recruiting of new people, and to essentially rebuild the whole basic science program of M. D. Anderson. And I can remember Fred Becker saying, "Wow, that is a tall order, Dr. Lemaistre. Who do you have in mind to do that?" And he said, "Well, I have in mind two people that I called in my office this afternoon to see if could persuade them to do it." So anyway, there was a lot of moaning and groaning and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and all of it very insincere, because we were thrilled to death to get this opportunity. So, as the new decade turned around, Fred Becker and I . . . He went in as the Vice president for Research, and I went in as the Associate Vice-President for Research. We began to correlate and to organize all of the elements of research, both in basic science and clinical departments, throughout the whole institution, and we would sit in his office late in the afternoon and worry about the fact that we were going to have to make some really hard and unpopular decisions. Some people were going to have to be retired. Some were going to have to go, and we were going to have to reorganize departments and so some recruiting.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

What year was this?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

This was in late 1979, early 1980. And over the next several years that was done, but I was a part of it for that period of time. We did a lot of recruiting, did a lot of reallocation of resources. It was a very hard time. But it was also a very exciting time because we were bringing in some fabulous new science. We were the envy of the nation in terms of people that we were able to recruit -- people like Isaiah Fidler [oral history interview] and Margaret Kripke [oral history interview] and Garth Nicolson, and people like that, all of whom had already had established reputations and yet, were young enough that they were still on the ascendancies of their careers. It was a wonderful time, although it was tough. And we didn't have a lot of new resources. We had to do it within . . . Dr. Lemaistre worked tirelessly to get us the resources to do this, both in the private sector and from the state legislature.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Was the state legislature receptive? Did you find them increasingly receptive or was it a constant . . .

James M. Bowen, PhD:

They were and yet, there was some concern that M. D. Anderson not go too academic. Dr. Lemaistre had been in academic medicine for his entire career, and there may have been some concern at the system administrative level that they didn't want Dr. Lemaistre to turn M. D. Anderson into this supermedical school of the whole system because they were trying to build a medical school in Houston. A tremendous amount of enthusiasm and effort at the system level had been put in to retooling Southwestern, into one of the world's premier academic medical institutions and that, of course, succeeded. I don't think anybody would argue. But that didn't do. They were trying to build in San Antonio at the same time and the University of Texas was being asked to put a tremendous amount of its educational resources into its new health science and cancer center simultaneously. So, it took a constant educational effort. Some people might call it lobbying. We didn't. But Dr. Lemaistre was drawn away a lot. I think that he had known from the beginning that that was going to happen, which was one of the reasons why he wanted to put the organizational structure in place. He also dreamed of ultimately turning M. D. Anderson into the ultimate academic institution; namely, one that could grant degrees. But, at the same time, we had a very strong affiliation with the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which was administratively within the Health Science Center, because the Health Science Centers were legislatively approved to grant degrees and M. D. Anderson was not, of course. But our faculty granted degrees within the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

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Chapter 09: Dr. LeMaistre’s Division System is a Framework to Develop Basic Sciences Research (1979/1980)