Chapter 06: Roles in Building Research and Advocating for Faculty

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Chapter 06: Roles in Building Research and Advocating for Faculty

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Dr. Kripke begins this segment by further detailing her role as Vice President and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. She notes that when Dr. Mendelsohn took over as the institution's president, he combated the "spirit of retrenchment"at MD Anderson, creating an unexpected period of "explosive growth." She then underscores that the limiting factor for research at the institution is "facilities, even more than money"and describes how she worked with Dr. Mendelsohn to further specific research areas: immunology, genetics, and other programs. As part of this discussion, she talks about ongoing challenge of refining how researchers' careers are organized and managed within the institution, noting in particular the challenges associated with career paths for physician-scientists. Reflecting on her own achievements in the VP role, she notes particular pride in "leveling the playing field"for researchers, the assignment of space and resources to researchers based on merit, and the complete rewriting of the grievance policy for faculty.

Identifier

Kripke,M_02_20120329_S06

Publication Date

3-29-2012

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center- Building the Institution; MD Anderson History; Growth and/or Change; MD Anderson Past; Understanding the Institution; Leadership; The Professional at Work; Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson

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

Yesterday we ended up our interview talking about your role as executive vice president, and I wanted to continue with that a bit particularly getting your view on the fact that—well, you had mentioned that under John Mendelsohn the institution was under a tremendous period of reorganization and transformation, and in fact, during the period that you were executive vice president there was a great increase in both faculty and trainees at MD Anderson and also a period of great growth in research programs. I wanted to ask you what Dr. Mendelsohn’s mission was and how you went about designing a plan to execute that mission and maybe places where you had your own independent ideas of what needed to be done.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I think you have to ask Dr. Mendelsohn what his vision was for the institution, but he was certainly very instrumental in the huge growth of the institution. I don’t think his vision included that kind of explosive growth of the institution. It was really a result of what he did with the institution. I think I mentioned yesterday that at the time that he came there was a spirit of retrenchment at MD Anderson, and there was actual downsizing of the staff and faculty, and when Mendelsohn came the first thing he did was to go around and ask faculty members—he met with all the departments, and he asked people “What’s your biggest challenge?” And what he heard from all of the clinical areas was that they needed more resources. They could do more work if they had more space, more personnel, whatever. Instead of continuing the trend of shrinking the institution, he allowed it to grow, and it was financially very successful. The predictions of the Sharp Report, which is the consulting firm that came in, the predictions about the impact that managed care would have on MD Anderson did not occur, and so instead of

being in a situation where we needed fewer and fewer beds and smaller clinical programs we were really burgeoning with not having—well, we were unable to really keep up with the demand, and so in recognizing that Dr. Mendelsohn enabled the institution to really expand to meet some of that huge demand, and in doing so the institution simply grew like crazy. I don’t know if the growth is still at the same rate that it was then. I doubt it because it was just hugely—a huge expansion. But you can see the result of that in the numbers of buildings that have been built, and Dr. Mendelsohn and Mr. Leach, who was the financial genius who allowed the buildings to be built and who figured out how to manage the finances to keep building continuously, they are really responsible for changing the landscape of the city of Houston in terms of the creation of the South Campus at MD Anderson and a lot of the things that have happened south of the main MD Anderson hospital.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

In terms of the growth under your purview, how did you make a plan for that to happen?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, I think one of Dr. Mendelsohn’s goals was to improve the science at MD Anderson and to expand the scientific activities or to continue the expansion that had started under Dr. Becker, and so that provided an opportunity to increase to some extent the basic science activities in the institution, and of course, that was also, again, only made possible with the creation of new facilities because the most rate-limiting resource for the research part of the institution is always facilities. Even more than money it’s facilities that keep you from expanding because researchers need space, and they need space for students and people and animals and whatever it is that they work on, so space is really quite rate-limiting in terms of the scientific activities.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

How did you proceed, and were there particular program areas, areas of research that you targeted?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yes, and those came out of—really they were guided by Dr. Mendelsohn’s personal interests and by some discussion and a mutual interest in developing or furthering certain areas of science. I think, again, one of the guiding principles was to expand areas of excellence, build on excellence, and then also to kind of fill in some gaps where there wasn’t scientific activity.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were some of the areas that began to flourish with this period of growth?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Clearly immunology was one, and again, that was due to the fact that Dr. Mendelsohn was very interested in immunology as an approach to cancer therapy, and interestingly and gratifyingly the new president is also very interested in that as an approach to cancer treatment, so I think that will continue to thrive in the institution.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

And this is Ronald DePinho.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yes, yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Just for the purpose of the recorder. And other areas?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Genetics was greatly expanded during that period. We started a new program in cancer genetics. We had a program in basic molecular genetics. That was expanded, and a group was added in cancer genetics. What else? Biostatistics and all of the kind of quantitative sciences were added during that period. We were very interested in building some of the areas of new technology such as molecular imaging, so that was an area that was really started from scratch and is still evolving in the institution. Those are some of the things. There were others probably but those were the—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Was there anything that you wish that you could have done during that period that you were unable to achieve?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yes. I think I would like to have left that role with greater clarity about how to manage physicians who were also laboratory investigators, and I think, again, that these are people who have been referred to in the past as endangered species because it is so difficult to do clinical medicine and also run a research laboratory, and of course, these are the people who really understand both worlds and can help bring them together. And it is a very difficult role for anyone to play, and I think there is still a lack of clarity about a career path for physician-scientists in the institution. How do you fund them? Most clinicians are funded by the fact that they take care of patients, and the patient income covers their salary and expenses and so on. If you are a physician-scientist, you’re in the laboratory much of the time and not generating income, and so there’s not a clear career path and a clear vision of how that is supposed to work in the institution going forward. Perhaps that has been resolved since I stepped down, but I think that was one of the things that I was sorry that I had not been able to complete or manage better during my tenure.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

On the flip side, what are you very glad you did accomplish in that role?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Let me say one other thing about what I think was unfinished business. The other unfinished business has to do with how researchers are placed within the institution, like yesterday I mentioned that it’s possible to do research in three different contexts at MD Anderson. One is in a basic science department. One is in a research department in a clinical setting division, and then you can just be a PhD in a clinical department. I would like to have seen better coherence in terms of how the careers of scientists were managed and organized within the institution.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Do you have any observations now or intuitions on how that might be managed better? What kinds of issues need to be looked at?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, one model would be to put all the basic scientists into a research department or to put all of the researchers and clinical departments into a research department in a clinical division, so there are some other models that would be somewhat easier to manage and I think would be beneficial for the scientists involved. That’s a very unpopular notion if you run a clinical department and you want researchers working on your particular type of cancer and so on. The mentality still exists that people need to work for the doctors and do whatever it is that they provide the funding to work on. It’s a model—the current model is one that works, but I think it doesn’t work as well for the individuals who are in those roles as it does for people who are part of a true research enterprise, and part of that is access to infrastructure. Basic science departments provide a lot of infrastructure help in getting grant writing and help in doing things that are the business of research. Clinical departments often don’t have those kinds of infrastructure things, and so it makes it more difficult for the individuals.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

It’s interesting that you’re taking the perspective—not completely—but trying to find an administrative model and a framework in which the individual can develop through their own career more effectively. Do you feel that you—?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Well, that’s because science is all about people succeeding to be able to do their research unencumbered by worrying about lots of other things, so the more that you can do to foster an environment in which people can talk science to each other instead of complaining about what doesn’t work in the institution it’s very beneficial to the research.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

In terms of your own experience, how encumbered do you feel you were over the course of your career? What were the settings like for you?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I was in research settings for my entire career so I didn’t have the experience of—well, actually, in Salt Lake City I was in a clinical department, but there was a research component to that department that was very strong and that belonged to the department chair and was very well supported by the department head. I was never in a position like some of the researchers at MD Anderson who live in a completely clinical setting.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

So you’ve had a much more ideal kind of path.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Yeah, yeah. That’s easier. That’s just easier.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What are the accomplishments that you are pleased you were able to achieve as executive VP?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

One of the main ones—again, we talked about yesterday—was the leveling the playing field issue and kind of redistributing resources to support research on the basis of who deserved them, not who felt like they were entitled to them, so that was one thing. Another thing we instituted was a review of research space. Again, many people when they came to MD Anderson were given an amount of research space probably depending on what was available at the time, and there was really no mechanism to adjust that up or down, and so we put into place a review process where space utilization and productivity was reviewed on an every-3-year basis, and it did 2 things. It took away or at least reduced greatly the thought of entitlement that this is what I was given when I came here, and you can’t take that away from me. It’s in my letter of offer, etc. We promulgated the idea that research space, again, is given based on merit, not on history, and so there was a review process. There were some adjustments made within departments. It’s harder to do that between departments just because of the physical constraints, but within departments it gave the department chair the ammunition, if you will, to reduce someone’s space if they were not being productive and to increase the space of junior faculty who were growing in terms of their research programs.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What was the reaction of the faculty to those kinds of changes? Did some people feel—?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

No one likes change, particularly when it’s an administrative change, so there was a lot of—I think in both instances the feelings were mid [CHECK AUDIO HERE. MAY BE “MEH”].. On the one hand, I think people appreciated the fact that we were trying to distribute resources on the basis of merit and on the basis of fairness. On the other hand, there were some people who were very unhappy because they lost resources and also the review process—any time you institute a review process that makes people a little uncomfortable.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Because losing resources is a comment.

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

Right, correct. It put some pressure on people who ran research laboratories that they would rather not have had. But my feeling is that administration—leadership is not a popularity contest. It’s about doing what needs to be done and trying to do it in a transparent way. It’s not about being popular.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Were there any other accomplishments that you want to talk about right now with that role?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

No, I’ll have to think about that some more.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

Okay. One thing I did want to do was you’re talking now about—

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I did think of one other major agenda. There were two things that were kind of hot-button issues when I started. One was the grievance process for faculty, and so in collaboration with the legal office and the physician-in-chief and people who were involved in faculty grievance issues, we completely rewrote the grievance policy for faculty, and there was a lot of concern among the faculty that there was an institutional policy for all staff, and it was not being applied appropriately to faculty members and that they didn’t have access to real due process if they had a grievance to bring forward and that was quite a—there was a lot of tension surrounding the issue when I first started and Dr. Mendelsohn first started, and so that was one of the first things that we attacked was trying to negotiate a grievance process that the faculty was happy with and also one that met the legal requirements for the institution.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D

What were—I’m sorry. What were some of the specific issues that were coming up for faculty that were different than staff and administrators?

Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D

I don’t recall the specific circumstances, but there were a couple of cases that the faculty were very unhappy about. These are things that occurred before I actually took on an administrative role, so I’m not really privy to all the details but it had to do with people feeling like they didn’t have any—they didn’t have due process, and they weren’t allowed to speak on their behalf, and they weren’t entitled to a meeting with the president and so on, so a lot of those things were actually fixed by putting in place the new policy. The second thing of that kind was the promotion and tenure process which was really revamped to make it clear that you couldn’t just switch people from the non-tenure track on to the tenure track, and it tried to lay out clearer criteria for promotion, what people needed to do to get promoted in the institution and what are the requirements, what are the processes, and we held a lot of educational sessions for faculty about that. That was another thing that I think we accomplished. It’s probably time to do it again, I guess, because those are always evolving systems, but that was another one that I spent a great deal of time on initially in that role.

Chapter 06: Roles in Building Research and Advocating for Faculty

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