Chapter 05: Moving into Administration: a Path from Department Chair to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

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Chapter 05: Moving into Administration: a Path from Department Chair to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

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In this segment, Dr. Kripke talks about her shift from research to administration and her "learning curve"as she grappled with leadership. She talks about her (exclusively) mentors in leadership and also her participation in a program for women in academic medicine, ELAM, the Executive Leadership in Medicine Program in 1996-1997. (She was the only appointee from Texas that year.) She describes being interested in "the science of administration." She details the lessons she learned during this "phenomenally exciting time"that allowed her to reflect on where she wanted to go with her career. She explains her decision to leave her research career, resulting in her 1998 appointment as Vice President for Academic Programs (promoted to Senior Vice President in 1999 and to Executive Vice President in 2001). She outlines the principles on which she bases leadership and discusses institutional and cultural changes that evolved after 1996, when Dr. Mendelsohn became president, including a new openness compared to the secrecy of previous administrations. She describes how she tried to implement one of her goals as VP for Academic Programs --to "level the playing field"for researchers. She talks about her working relationship with Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, whom Dr. Mendelsohn appointed to Senior VP of Academic Programs. She describes the scope of her role as Executive Vice President, emphasizing that she had to become familiar with the clinical side of research, "a completely different culture."

Identifier

Kripke,M_01_20120328_S05

Publication Date

3-28-2012

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - The Administrator; The Administrator; Leadership; Mentoring; The Professional at Work; On Leadership; Experiences re: Gender, Race, Ethnicity; Understanding the Institution; Institutional Mission and Values; MD Anderson Culture

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

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Would you like to shift gears a bit and talk about administrative roles?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Sure, whatever. Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

We’ve talked about your role as chair of your brand-new department. Is there anything else that you would like to add about building that department from an administrative point of view, maybe of connections with other programs? Or I’m just curious if there’s anything we haven’t covered about that.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I think being chair of immunology was kind of a continuation of the learning curve or an administrative role, a leadership role, and so I continued to really try to learn about leadership and learn about administration.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were some of the lessons that that experience taught you?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I don’t think when I started that I had a very clear idea about setting goals and getting people to share goals and to move the department in the direction—it was really about hiring individuals and helping them be successful, and so I think I gradually learned about getting feedback from the other faculty members, what is working for you, what is not working for you, what could we do better to help you do your work and so on. And so that was something that I learned as part of that job just to be more conscious about leadership issues, and I should say that for the first—I don’t know—probably 5 to 10 years in that position my evaluation by my superior was about my science, not about building the department and then that also—then there was more attention being paid to the department.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

I was just going to ask you if you found that there was a mentor for leadership issues within the institution for you, anyone you looked to or—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I feel like I’ve had lots of mentors. In fact, every place that I’ve been I have learned something from the person that I reported to, including a lot of things about how I would not do things, which I think is just as important as learning things that you like is learning what you don’t like and what you see doesn’t work, and so in that sense I’ve had lots of mentors. They’ve all been male, by the way, but I think it’s been—I do think that I was cognizant of what I was learning from people as I watched them in a leadership role.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Now, in 1996 through 1997 you were part of ELAM or the Executive Leadership in Medicine Program. In fact, you were the only person from Texas selected to participate in that program that year and you had mentioned—I can’t remember if it was in your interview or in your autobiographical essay for Legends and Legacies that that was really a critical experience for you, and I wonder if you would talk a bit about what that was, what that offered you.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, it was a new program that had started the previous year, and the year that it was announced it was too soon for me to go. I couldn’t organize things to get to go the first year, and so I asked permission to go to this program and I was really at a position—I had already told Dr. Becker that I would be stepping down as department chair after 15 years, and my feeling was I’m not learning anything else. This is not a learning experience for me anymore. Someone needs to come in and really take the department in a different, broader direction that has more relevance to the human cancer issue, and I’m either going to go back to the laboratory and continue my research, or I’m going to do more administration. By then I was really interested in the science of administration and in leadership issues in general from a didactic point of view, and so when this course became available I thought that would be a good thing for me to see whether I’m really—which way should I be going here, and it was interesting. There was a woman in my class my same year who was also an immunologist, and I ended up going the administration route, and she ended up staying in the laboratory. But it was a time—it was a year’s program—we went for a week or 10 days or something in the fall, and we went to the American Association of Medical Colleges meeting in the winter, and then we had another week in the spring, and then we had assignments during the year in addition to that.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And this program was just for women.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

It is just for women, and it’s for women in academic medicine, and the entire focus of that program is to increase the numbers of women in leadership positions in academic medicine. And so it was an extremely formative experience for me. It was an eye opener for me. I learned things about leadership and administration that I had no idea about, and it was incredibly valuable in terms of teaching me how to lead people who have different styles than I do. It helped define what is my own style, what are the principles on which you are going to lead, and just really crystallizing a lot of those issues for me. It was also extremely energizing to be in a room full of very talented, very bright, very high-powered women, which is something that had been totally beyond my experience before. You’re in a room full of women, and you don’t have to be the one who organizes and does everything. There are other people who will also help out. But it was a phenomenally exciting time, and I really met wonderful people, and it really gave me the opportunity to reflect on where I wanted to go with my career. One of the most valuable things that they did in that course, which they are still doing now after 10, 11, 12 years, is one of the intersession assignments is to interview people in your institution, the head of development, the head of finance and administration, the head of personnel, people that you don’t normally have contact with. I learned so much from that exercise about how the institution worked and what was important to people and what they were trying to accomplish in their jobs. It was really an incredible exercise. It also was amazing that they were so thrilled that somebody wanted to know what they did, also a revelation that some faculty member was interested in what they did, which was very telling. At the end of it I decided I really did want to do administration and that I was not going to—I felt for many reasons that my major contributions had been made scientifically. I always say that if I were married to anybody but Josh I probably wouldn’t feel like that, but every time I think he’s done his important work he comes out with something else. I thought, no, I’ve done my thing, and I was really interested in learning other things and moving on to something where I was kind of growing professionally, and so that was the choice. And it happened that that is when Dr. Mendelsohn came to the institution, and so that provided the opportunity because there were many changes in the administration and the structure at the time that he came, and so he gave me the opportunity to participate.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

You were appointed in 1998 Vice President for Academic Programs, and maybe we could kind of do a couple things. As you talk about that appointment, take me through what your roles were, but I was also interested in going back and picking up some of those lessons that you learned during the leadership program, what you learned about your style, what you learned about creating a vision and dealing with other people, so however you want to tackle that particular territory of the vice presidency for academic programs.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

It became very clear to me that you can’t anticipate every set of circumstances. Once you move into that level of administration it’s like the white water rafting analogy. You get in, and you start paddling because you can’t do anything else, and you have time to think about what it is that you’re doing, and so it’s extremely important to lead from principles because it forces consistency. It enables transparency, and it gives you guideposts for decision making.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were your principles?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

One of them came from—was a mandate from Dr. Mendelsohn, and that is to support excellence. He wanted excellence in science, excellence whatever, so you support excellence. If you have a choice to make, you have to decide who gets resources, you support excellence. One of my favorites is reward the behavior that you want. I really, really tried to stick with that. It’s easy to do things for people who are pounding on your desk and screaming and being the loudest, and I tried always to not reward bad behavior and to make part of the institutional awards include an element of being a role model in the institution, so reward the behavior that you want is an important one of mine.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

It’s administering and also culture creating in a sense.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yeah, yeah. Another principle: always tell the truth. It’s amazing how many people don’t do that. Always tell the same story. I know people in leadership positions that at the scene they will say one thing in one context and say something somewhat different depending on who the audience is. That never works. It’s a disaster. Or never taking responsibility for decisions and for actions, that’s another principle. Always be ready to stand up and take responsibility for what it is that you’re doing.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

That’s interesting because those sound like not only leadership principles but also just ethical principles.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

It’s amazing how often those are not followed. I mean, I have seen previous leaders who were very secretive about who got resources and how things worked and whatever, I suppose as a protective mechanism. Dr. Mendelsohn’s administration was much more open in terms of we can all look at the finances. We all see the same numbers. We all get the same data. We all get the same story. It was a major cultural shift under Dr. Mendelsohn.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

From Charles LeMaistre.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yes, and it was partly Mr. Leach who changed the financial systems to make them totally transparent so everybody is working—all of a sudden everybody is working from the same set of numbers, which was a terrible source of contention in the previous administration. Everybody kept their own set of books. Everybody had their own numbers, and money was hidden everywhere, and that was a major cultural change.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

I can see when you mention it there was just a huge institutional shift at that moment when you became vice president. Suddenly there was a new set of guiding principles at the—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I don’t think it happened overnight. It evolved over the first few years, but I think there was a major cultural change. There was also a big mindset change because at the time that Dr. Mendelsohn came in the institution had had an outside consulting report come in and say that managed care is going to kill your business. You’re going to have to downsize. They actually did downsize the institution significantly at that time, so when I became Vice President for Academic Programs I think there were only 7,000 people in the institution. But it was an easier administrative role in those days, I can tell you.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Now, I was going to ask you what your goals were as vice president, and I don’t know if those overlap with your principles or not, but how would you respond to that question about your goals and intentions?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

They are overlapping with the principles to a good extent. One of the goals was to level the playing field for scientists in the institution. There’s basic scientists in basic science departments. There are basic scientists in research departments that belong to clinical divisions, and there are research scientists that are in clinical departments, so there are 3 different ways that you can actually be a researcher at MD Anderson, and when I came to administration they were all treated very differently, and they were not given the same resources.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Why is that?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Historical evolution, I think. Clinical departments hired PhDs to do their work, and they hired them without any institutional support and without any infrastructure and without anything, and they controlled whether they got promoted or not, so about the time that I came to the institution they were trying to make sure that the criteria for promotion and tenure for research faculty were the same across the board. But what I inherited was a situation where everybody wanted the criteria to be the same for promotion, but the resources were very different, which is very unfair, obviously. Leveling the playing field for researchers was a major issue. Another one was the transparency issue, letting everybody know what the principles are and why decisions were made in the way they were. I really believed in trying to communicate with the other department heads, with faculty, in terms of trying to interpret the institution and what was happening in the institution for them because people—if they don’t have enough information they’ll make up stories about how things are working, and so that’s a constant challenge is to use the opportunities that you have in meetings or whatever to really talk about your goals, the principles, what’s happening, rather than just feeding people information.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

How did you go about resolving or meeting that goal of leveling the playing field for researchers?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I’m not sure it ever has been completely resolved, but one of the things that I did is to make sure that people were hired by the same criteria. It used to be that you could bring somebody into the institution on a non-tenure track, research non-tenure track, and then switch them into the tenure track. That doesn’t work. If you want everybody to have the same resources, you have to be able to plan how many faculty positions do you have, what kind of resource packages are they going to get when they come, and so we absolutely put a stop to the ability for people just to slide people into the tenure track under the table.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Right, the, oh, gee, we like you.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Come work for me for a few years. I’ll make sure you get your promotion. That was one. Another one was that research departments created during certain periods of time had lots of resources, secretary positions, technician positions, money to support departmental activities. The basic science departments had that. The other ones didn’t, and again, that was a historical issue that people in the clinical departments had a different reporting structure and a different financial—they were under a different budget system. And so one of the—I think—major things that I did was to take all of those resources—and of course, if a department was created during the time when the institution had a lot of money, you got a lot of resources. And if it was created at a time when there wasn’t a lot of money, you didn’t get a lot of resources. What we did was to take all the positions and put them together and create a pot of dollars and then re-divide the dollars on the basis of how successful the departments were in terms of bringing in grant money, external funding. So again, it’s a matter of rewarding the behavior that you want, making sure everybody understands what the game plan is, and people who lost resources of course were not very happy about it, but no one really complained about it. Everybody understood what the basis of it was.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And again, that transparency. That’s so key to getting people to just buy in at least.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

We tried to make it as painless as possible so that was a major—I would say a major initiative.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Was there something during that period—because you were in that role for a year, and then you were promoted to senior vice president.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yeah, what happened was that the senior vice president position I had applied for, and so did Andy von Eschenbach, and Dr. Mendelsohn chose Andy. As he has said subsequently, he just did not think that he could have someone in that position, head of academic affairs—or he was chief academic officer—who didn’t have a clinical background, so that was the clinical issue. And although I wasn’t thrilled about that, he made it clear that Andy needed to incorporate me and my research talents into his administration, and so that’s how that evolved. But after a year, Andy resigned from the position, and so I got the job, and I have thanked Andy many times for this, but it gave me a year to kind of get my feet on the ground, to get a better sense of the institution, to learn something about what were the issues for clinical faculty and so on before I actually took on that role. The president did me a real favor by not putting me in that role initially. It was extremely helpful, as it turns out.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were the issues for—well, I’ll let you choose how you approach what went on because you were in that position of senior vice president for 2 years. I’d like you to tell me a bit about that period and kind of what your goals were.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

What happened after that was I was executive vice president.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

You were then promoted to executive vice president.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

That’s a title issue. The job didn’t change.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Okay. What was your role? It was pretty wide-reaching, as I understand, what your responsibilities were in that position.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I was in charge of academic affairs, and I had a wonderful vice president. Steve Tomasovic was my vice president for academic affairs—academic programs, I guess. That’s promotion and tenure, hiring and firing evaluation of all faculty. Not just the research faculty but all faculty, so that was really the difference between working under Andy and moving up into his role is that I originally had that responsibility for the research faculty, but then I inherited the clinical side as well. It was all of the academic affairs piece, all the educational programs piece which Steve also did. I guess he started out being in charge of educational programs, and I brought in someone to run academic affairs and was not happy with the outcome, so after a few years Steve took that on as well. I had all of the research administration that included the grants office, how to get grants out and in to the institution, animal care and use committee, all of the regulations surrounding research and use of hazardous substances and all of those kinds of issues, all the research infrastructure things, patents, and that’s pretty much the scope of the operations.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were your goals in dealing with this expanded—?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Survival, number one. Well, the first goal was really to develop a better understanding of the clinical side of the operation. Originally I did not have the responsibility for clinical research. That was on the clinical side, and so a lot of those functions remained under the vice president for patient care, and again, there was another reorganization at the time that I became executive vice president where clinical research was moved into my bailiwick.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were the issues that you saw evolving for clinical faculty and researchers that were different from basic scientists?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, their responsibilities are so totally different. The clinicians have responsibility for taking care of patients, so they have to be in the clinic a certain number of days of the week. They don’t always have the privilege of doing research. Many of them want to do research but don’t have the mandate or the time or whatever, and so trying to sort that out and decide who is a physician-scientist who gets laboratory space and research resources is an issue that I think still is not very satisfactorily resolved either at MD Anderson or anywhere. It’s a very difficult role, and so I really had to learn what are the specific issues of clinical faculty, a lot of which has to do with how their time is scheduled, how they are scheduled, whether they can go to scientific meetings or not, clinical meetings or not. It’s just a completely different culture, and it’s a completely different set of responsibilities. Basic scientists can go off and sit in scientific meetings 50 percent of the time and nobody cares. As long as you get your work done, you’re producing, you’re writing grants, you’re being productive, it’s not such a big deal for you to be somewhere else. For a clinician it’s critical because you’ve got patients. You’ve got followup patients. You have real other institutional responsibilities, and I think one of the things that I’ve learned is that MD Anderson is not a one size fits all institution in terms of the faculty, in terms of a lot of things, in terms of a lot of policies, in terms of faculty, certainly in terms of patients. I think that’s a given. That’s taken for granted. But I think initially I was trying hard to be equitable and level the playing field, but it just somehow didn’t work between the research and the clinical faculty, and I think that there are still some things where we try to fit everybody into the same box, and it’s not a comfortable fit.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Looking at the time, and it’s almost 4, I don’t know if you’d like to stop for today, and we can resume tomorrow. Would that work for you?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yeah, that’s fine.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And maybe we can continue with some of your experiences at this level of administration tomorrow. That’d be great. Okay, so it’s 5 minutes to 4, and terminating the interview for today.

Chapter 05: Moving into Administration: a Path from Department Chair to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

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