Chapter 10: Taking on Executive Roles to Develop Education Under Charles LeMaistre


Chapter 10: Taking on Executive Roles to Develop Education Under Charles LeMaistre



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In this chapter, Dr. Bowen talks about the expansion of his role at MD Anderson into education. He also discusses the specific position as Vice President for Academic Affairs, his decision to close down his own laboratory, and his mission of “informing lay people about cancer, about cancer prevention.”



Publication Date



Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the InstitutionBuilding the Institution; Building/Transforming the Institution; Education; On Education; Education at MD Anderson; Institutional Politics; Understanding the Institution; Controversy; Leadership; On Leadership; Portraits; Evolution of Career; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work


James M. Bowen, PhD:

Well, this went on, this rebuilding program in the research for a couple of years. And Dr. Lemaistre happened to be on a plane to Austin, and I was going along to a Board of Regents meeting. There were faculty designated attendees at all Board of Regents meetings, and I happened to be one of the two, with his many people, and I happened to be in the seat next to Dr. Lemaistre. And this would have been in late 1981, I think. I might need to carefully recheck those dates but I believe in late 1981. And he said, "Jim, how are things going in research?" I said, "We are working really hard but I think they are going really well. He said, "Yes, that is my impression, too." And he said, "I think it is time to do something similar in education. I would like to coordinate all the educational activities and all the educational resources into one unit at the vice-presidential level. And I said, "I think that is tremendous." I said, "You may have some internal problems there because a lot of the education in the institution has grown up as cottage industry and there may be some territorial problems. And he said, "How would you like to take that on?" And I said, "I can't take that on, because so much of our educational program is clinical. If we are going to have any clinical credibility, you're going to have to have a physician in that role like Dr. Copeland was." Murray Copeland was a tremendous educational officer for the institution. But he relegated the basic science part to Dr. Haas who did it kind of as part of his overall basic science activity. Dr. Lemaistre said, "Well, I am sorry you feel that way. Do you want to talk about it again some time?" I said, "Sure. Don't misunderstand me, Dr. Lemaistre. I would absolutely love this job. I would love to do this, but I can't think right now that a Ph.D. Can do this job for you." Well, no more was said about it on that trip, and not for several weeks. And one day, Dr. Robert Moreton called me and said, "I am supposed to go and report on M. D. Anderson's residency training program to the Residency Training Committee of the TMA [Texas Medical Association], and I have another obligation. Do you think you could take my notes and put together something of your own and go and present that?" And I said, "Sure." So, I went to the TMA and I presented the residency program as though I knew what I was doing up there. But naive me, I did not see this as a setup, which it clearly was, because about one month later, Dr. Lemaistre called me again and said, "I have had a couple of conversations with people who were at the TMA meeting." He said, "Congratulations, you did a pretty good job." I said, "Well, I read from the notes," and so forth. He said, "No, you didn't. Do you still think a Ph.D. Can't handle the educational programs of the institution?" I said, "Well, I don't know, Dr. Lemaistre. I hate to set myself up to fail. Failure is a really bad thing for me." And he said, "Well, let's talk about it some more." Well, one of the things you learn about Dr. Lemaistre is that when he decided something was going to be, it was going to be. I mean, he wasn't like Dr. Clark who would call you up and say, 'I want you to come up and discuss this with me. You are free to disagree but bring the contract.' And Dr. Clark had a reputation for doing that. I never saw it happen but he had a reputation for doing that. Dr. Lemaistre kept giving you opportunities to reconsider your position. And so, finally, after some conversations, I said, "O.K., I'll tell you what -- let me try this. In one year, I will come and tell you if I think I can do it. In two years, I will come and you tell me whether or not you think I can do it. And in five years, you can replace me with someone else, because this job is very much like a deanship, and I have always believed that the productive, creative, reasonable life of a dean is five years. And after that, they should either be put in the freezer or something!" And we laughed about that, I can remember. So, we did it. We consolidated. And I spent a whole year talking to every department chairman, every educational coordinator. I went to the TMA. I went to the deans of the old schools. I went to other institutions to see how they were doing it, and how they were doing this and that, and one thing or the other . . . How they organized their faculty, to consider a kind of tenure at the institution, something that we had done earlier but which had never really been completely restructured. We decided the institution needed an educational handbook. We began to get a few people together to work on that. And one year later, when I went back for my vice-presidential, in the faculty, I had gone from Postdoc to Assistant Professor, up to Professor and ultimately, to tenure Professor; then to Deputy Department Head, Department Head, Associate Vice-President for Research, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, all in a matter of 30 years! No, it wasn't quite that long . . .

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

Well, when you consider all the steps that were taken, actually, 30 years isn't long. Some may never achieve it.

James M. Bowen, PhD:

But, you know, this is not really cogent to the interview but my whole career has been one of happenstance. I just happened to be at the right place in the presence of the right person at the right time, and had to go . . . You know, some modicum of ability to work real hard, and an absolute affection for the people that I was reporting to. I loved working with Fred Becker. As a matter of fact, the most difficult thing about becoming Vice-President for Academic Affairs was really leaving Fred Becker's office. I consider him one of my very best friends, and a great mentor he was. And I had a sense that we were a really good team. We did good cop/bad cop routines a lot of the times, and I was glad because I always got to be good cop and that was good for me. But Fred was very supportive of this transition, and we remained close colleagues for that whole period of time. And it is an interesting thing that under the current M. D. Anderson administrative structure, research and education are all under one central administrative unit. A very appropriate thing. But, from about September of 1982, we began to organize and expand and to resource and to coordinate all the educational programs within the institution, and although there has never been a job that I have had at M. D. Anderson that I didn't enjoy, this business of academic affairs was exhilarating. It was absolutely the most incredible thing. I used to tell Lemaistre, I'd say, "You know, I hope that you don't ever figure out that I would probably do this for nothing. I really enjoy cashing my paycheck, but I would probably do this for nothing." And we laughed. He said, "Well, i'll try to give you something that is hard." And we ultimately developed the School of Allied Health within M. D. Anderson which one of my colleagues, Dr. Ahearn [oral history interview], has now gotten degree-granting status, with a few things left to go. So, we have managed to accomplish that. We expanded our faculty advisors by fourfold over that period of time. And in five years, I went to Dr. Lemaistre and I said, "I told you that I thought you ought to have me put to sleep in five years, but I think there are a few more things to do. So, if you are willing, i'll do it for another couple of years." And what happened was that I retired in that role, on the 31st of August of 1994. So, I basically headed up the Academic Affairs programs and the resources for that period of time. And a couple of years after I became Vice-President for Academic Affairs, I had a priority problem in education and I had a priority problem going on in my laboratory. And I thought, I can't do both of these things. Which one will I have more fun doing? And I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that what I really wanted to do was to deal with the educational administration problem and not go and deal with the laboratory problem.

Louis J. Marchiafava, PhD:

What is the laboratory problem?

James M. Bowen, PhD:

I kept a laboratory where we were continuing to do research on mouse mammary tumor virus and on a few other immunological things, in collaboration with several other departments, but principally, the Department of Gynecology because we were studying virally-mediated immunotherapy of gynecological cancers. And I went to Dr. Lemaistre and I said, "Dr. Lemaistre, I have made a very difficult decision but it would help me if you would put it on paper so that I can blame you for it in the future when I am feeling remorse about it." We laughed. And I closed down my laboratory that year, and went absolutely into full-time, undiminished educational administration. And the only thing that I clung to from the older days as a faculty member was I still, until the last week that I worked at Anderson, took every single opportunity to get in front of a classroom. And that was when I also, with Dr. Lemaistre's blessing and often at his instigation, set up a program for informing lay people about cancer, about cancer prevention. Some time during this period, and I am trying to remember what year it was, Dr. Lemaistre asked me if I would be occasionally willing to take on as sort of a special assistant to the president role. I said, "You bet, you know. Anything you think I can do, let me know and we will do it." And during that period of time, I actually had several roles. I was the administrative officer for strategic planning for a period of time. That was a headache, but it was a wonderful experience because it gave us a chance to see what the faculty believed was going to be the vision for the future of M. D. Anderson, and to help them organize those thoughts into a real plan, and then to work with other institutions within the system to see what they were doing, and to try to coordinate with them. Ultimately, planning became an independent administrative entity out of the president's office which is where it should have gone, but I played a role in getting that organized and was really, really proud of it, and the planning structure of M. D. Anderson is still a really significant planning structure. It was Dr. Lemaistre's vision, not mine, but I felt good to have a role in planning it. And M. D. Anderson right now is updating its plan for the next 10 or so years. And that is really exciting. I admire and envy all the people that are getting to play a role in that. [Break in audio]

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Chapter 10: Taking on Executive Roles to Develop Education Under Charles LeMaistre