Special Report – MD Anderson Faculty White Paper To UT Chancellor Calls for Executive Pay Freeze, Elimination of “Two-Class System”

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MD Anderson Faculty White Paper to UT Chancellor Calls for Executive Pay Freeze, Elimination of “Two-Class System”

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

MD Anderson Cancer Center’s faculty has asked the UT System to freeze the salaries of Ronald DePinho and members of his executive team until they reach a level of parity with faculty salaries, according to a white paper presented to UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven June 14.

The white paper—authored by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate and distributed confidentially to the faculty July 10—is arguably the most comprehensive representation of the faculty’s cumulative dissatisfaction with DePinho and his administration’s performance and handling of personnel matters over the past three years.

The draft documents, obtained by The Cancer Letter, are posted here.

In eight chapters, over 32 pages, the white paper proposes significant policy changes and shared governance initiatives, including:

  • Creating oversight committees to review budgetary decisions and establishment of executive positions,
  • Updating anti-retaliation and conflict resolution measures,
  • Mandating transparent communication from the administration on all major institutional initiatives and business plans,
  • Requiring written explanation if the president vetoes unanimous Promotion and Tenure Committee decisions, and implementing an appeals process,
  • Rewarding clinical and research faculty by allowing 5 to 10 percent relief from the 40 percent salary grant support requirement as well as creating a compensation plan for faculty who have lost their ability to meet the requirement,
  • Considering renewable term limits for Department Chairs and Division Heads to “curtail the possibility of abuse of power when authority increases,”
  • Restoring authority to department chairs to define their own budgets, review, assign laboratory space, and hire faculty, and
  • Reestablishing triennial “Upward Evaluations” as a means by which the faculty can hold departmental, division and executive leadership accountable.

In describing the “pervasive” low faculty morale at MD Anderson, the white paper states that DePinho’s leadership has fostered a “two-class system” at the cancer center.

“There are few things as destructive to trust as a double standard,” the Faculty Senate wrote in the first chapter, titled “TRUST.” “There is a perception that the Executive Leadership demonstrates a lack of respect and appreciation for faculty hired during the previous administration, choosing to ignore the significance of their past contributions that made MDACC the number one cancer center for many years. This creates a two-class system and a demoralized faculty body.

“There is also a perception that the new recruits have been provided or promised excessive resources in terms of salary support, research funds, and leadership of programs.”

The authors go on to describe how new recruits are paid twice as high as existing faculty.

Top administrators at MD Anderson earn seven-figure salaries, and their compensation has been increasing dramatically while faculty raises have been slow (The Cancer Letter, April 17, 2015).

In 2014, basic science faculty members received an incentive payment of $2,000. Incentive pay for clinical staff was calculated as a percentage of base pay linked to the amount of their work in clinical operations and other factors, officials said. There was no merit raise in 2014, because MD Anderson didn’t meet the institutional financial goal required to trigger that merit pay, officials said.

In fiscal year 2015, faculty members received 4 percent merit raises, based on performance in the FY2014 fiscal year. The budget for fiscal 2016 includes a 3 percent merit increase for faculty as well as an incentive program, which is in the midst of being updated, according to slides presented to the center’s Budget Advisory Committee April 6. The document is posted here.

This communication between the faculty and the UT System is a good thing, MD Anderson officials said July 13 in a statement to The Cancer Letter.

“The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center respects the private communication between the UT System Chancellor and MD Anderson’s Faculty Senate Leadership, and encourages a continued and open exchange of ideas and opinions,” officials said. “Candid dialogue is fundamental to building trust and finding resolution.”

In February, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution asking UT System officials and the Board of Regents to “provide guidance” to DePinho’s administration “in establishing milestones and timelines to implement measures to improve the morale of the faculty and the general health of the Institution.” (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 17, 2015)

UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven responded March 18, asking the Faculty Senate to draft a white paper. In that closed-door meeting, McRaven said that he had laid out “some clear guidance” for DePinho (The Cancer Letter, March 20, 2015).

“I have talked to Ron about how we improve the shared governance,” McRaven said to the faculty March 18. “Your voice should be not only heard, but it should be understood. It should be looked at in the context of what’s going on here at MD Anderson every single step of the way. And I believe that firmly.”

The support of the UT System for MD Anderson and its leadership has been “strong and unwavering,” McRaven said in a statement July 13 to The Cancer Letter.

“MD Anderson is a crown jewel of the UT System because of its international recognition for the excellence of its patient care and the groundbreaking contributions of its researchers and scientists,” McRaven said. “This institution has been built through the hard work and dedication of its faculty, staff and administration.

“In every meeting that I have had with representatives of the institution, their passion and dedication is nothing short of inspirational. As a leader in the field, however, MD Anderson must constantly look to the future to be even better and more effective.

“It is in that spirit that I have solicited thoughts and suggestions from the Faculty Senate, the Division Directors and the executive leadership team.

“The prioritized areas of opportunity for improvement are remarkably consistent across these groups, and soon I will be communicating to all of them my suggestions for shared work on these initiatives.”

McRaven: “Not Afraid of Self-Criticism”

McRaven said his idea for the white paper is rooted in his military experience.

“During my time in the military, the SEAL Teams were known for being one of the best organizations in the service,” McRaven wrote to The Cancer Letter. “The reason we were so good was our willingness to aggressively critique our training and real world missions so that we got better each time we launched.

“These After Action Reviews (AARs) were blunt, sometimes scathing and oblivious to personal sensitivities. They included every member of the SEAL Team from the most junior SEAL to the Commanding Officer. Everyone had an equal voice in the AAR and no one was penalized for their comments. It was the only way we could improve, and the lives of my men depended on improving every day.

“It was with this idea in mind that I asked the MD Anderson faculty to develop a White Paper that, from their point of view, identified problem areas and opportunities for improvement. I asked for a broad representation of the faculty and encouraged candor. The faculty provided me a long version that was quite detailed and somewhat tactical.

“Consequently, I requested a more tailored approach to address the big issues. President DePinho and the leadership of MD Anderson wholeheartedly supported this approach, and I am incredibly proud of them for their willingness to hear and address some of the uncomfortable and complex problems that need to be worked out.

“The White Paper is treated as draft input to me, the Chancellor. I will make the decision on how best to use this information and how to engage the MD Anderson leadership on steps for continuous improvement of the institution. We are convening a team from the MD Anderson Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, the Division Heads and the Senior Leadership to help me review the input and provide appropriate counsel to President DePinho and others.

“The best organizations in the world must constantly assess their progress. The best organizations in the world are not afraid of self-criticism. They embrace it knowing they will be stronger in the long run.

“Whether you are internal to MD Anderson or are observing from the outside, this is exactly what you should expect your leaders to do. Anything less should be unacceptable. It is what will continue to make MD Anderson the best Cancer Center in the world.

“I am profoundly grateful to the entire MD Anderson faculty community, including its Senate and faculty-at-large, and to President DePinho and executive leadership team for focusing on what matters most—doing everything in their power, both individually and collectively, to ensure that MD Anderson’s patients will be benefit from all that this extraordinary institution has to offer them.”

The full text of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate email to MD Anderson faculty follows:

The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate request that all the attached materials and this email be kept absolutely confidential and not be forwarded to anyone.

Dear Faculty:

In the interest of transparency, we would like to share with you the process used to create the attached draft documents created as advisory to the Chancellor. Throughout this process we realized we would not be able to get 100% consensus on all topics, and some items may not fully represent the opinion of each of our more than 1,600 faculty members.

Initially, we received a charge from the Chancellor to come up with a draft advisory white paper outlining the issues that resulted in the low faculty morale, which has been pervasive throughout the institution the last few years.

Using the Faculty Senate, institutional, and UT System surveys, as well as information obtained during formal visits of the Senate leadership to individual Departments we began the process to create a first draft.

Additionally, we solicited faculty feedback which was provided to us through (1) the Division Heads who provided each division’s full reports assembled from departmental faculty suggestions gathered in response to the leadership’s post-UT Survey question of “what are the top issues/solutions that can improve faculty morale?” and (2) direct communications to the Senate office from faculty at large in response to emails requesting this information.

We sent an early draft white paper first to the Division Heads for feedback. The Divisions Heads suggested an Executive Summary of the issues, which we drafted and then distributed to the faculty through the Division Heads and the Chairs.

The draft was then revised with the additional feedback we received from you. The full document was also made available for faculty viewing in the Faculty Senate office from which we gathered additional feedback. The attached documents are the current work in progress.

These documents were created as draft advisory documents to Chancellor McRaven, providing a broad view of the issues from the faculty relating to low faculty morale. The draft documents are now in the Chancellor’s hands, and he and Executive Vice Chancellor Greenberg will determine future directions and plans related to these advisory documents.

We would like to thank the Division Heads and Department Chairs for partnering with us throughout this process. We would also like to extend a special thank you to the many faculty members for taking the time to provide valuable feedback to the Chancellor and the Executive Vice Chancellor.

Your input will help the Chancellor and the Executive Vice Chancellor to make informed decisions that will improve the morale at MD Anderson. Thank you for your participation.

Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate

Associate Editor


Associate Editor