Thursday, May 28, 2015

LEADERSHIP: A Choice – You Decide

The Star Tribune (May 17) recently ran a review of a book by Fred Kiel with the headline:

This same theme was the central message delivered by David Brooks, the lead columnist for the New York Times, when he gave a superb talk at the Westminster Presbyterian Church forum in mid-May.  He noted how we have moved from a society more focused on values of character to one that celebrates what he terms “resume building”.  We are all too focused on personal achievement and recognition as opposed to the more productive leadership of character rooted in a value system that truly understands the greater good.

To this point, a friend sent me an email after my op-ed was published this past April calling for the dismissal of President Eric Kaler and others (see Arne Carlson Star Tribune Commentary).

He took note of a tragedy that occurred at Fairview Hospital while the late Carl Platou was in charge. By way of background, Carl Platou was a World War II hero who went on to distinguish himself as one of the nation’s foremost leaders in hospital administration and the improvement of medicine. Walter Mondale referred to him as a “genius”. Simply put, Carl Platou transformed medicine not only in Minnesota but nationally as well.

His final project was the creation of the biomedical research park that appropriately bears his name and that of Win Wallin, another Minnesota great. They formed a Board of Visitors with a mission to raise some $300 million from state and private gifts to make that park a reality.

However, by all standards, Carl Platou’s resume, particularly in the academic area, was most unimpressive. His was achievement by doing and working extraordinarily well with others toward a very pragmatic vision. He mastered team building.

Getting back to the tragedy, a child died after being given an overdose of anesthesia due to an incorrect reading. The attorney for Fairview advised Platou to stay away and allow them to handle it in court.

According to my friend’s account:  Instead, Carl sought out the parents, told them exactly what happened, and then, we all cried together.

All the Fairview upper management went to the funeral including the individual who made the mistake. The parents never sued. I am sure Carl worked out an appropriate settlement. As my friend noted:  He clearly accepted responsibility.

Now let’s go to May of 2004 when Dan Markingson ended his life in a most gruesome suicide. At the time, he was in a drug trial financed by a large pharmaceutical company at the University.  His mother, Mary Weiss, made every effort to get him out because she noted that his behavior was increasingly erratic. In one message she pleaded for her son’s release and declared:  Do we have to wait until he kills himself or someone else before anyone does anything.   Her plea was rebuffed and within a month Markingson violently ended his life.

The efforts by Ms. Weiss and her friend, Mike Howard, to find out the how and why of her son’s death were met with administrative stonewalling. At one point, they were escorted by security out of President Brunick’s office.  Finally, Ms. Weiss sued only to have the District Court rule that the University’s Review Board was “statutorily immune from liability”. Due to the technical nature of the dismissal, the Court did not hear or rule on the full substance of the case.

The President and his attorneys then turned around and sued Mary Weiss for legal fees.

As more people including members of the faculty and scientists around the globe joined the chorus calling for a truly independent investigation, the Bruinicks’ and later the Kaler administrations continued to stonewall requests for data and kept repeating a fiction of numerous investigations that were “exhaustive” and found no fault.

Now Eric Kaler, the new President, who has a most impressive academic resume, did not create the stonewalling or the untruths of multiple investigations that were “exhaustive” and “found no fault”.  However, he had a choice when he arrived in 2011.  He could meet with the Professors who were waving the red flags and who had fully informed him as to what was transpiring in drug testing which brought millions of dollars to the University and its researchers but was also rift with financial conflicts of interests, false claims about investigations, and abuse of enrollees. Or he could take the road of least resistance and continue the cover-up. He knowingly chose the latter.

Currently, President Kaler is under siege from some of his faculty and others for his lack of truthfulness and participation in a cover-up that protected serious misconduct.  Their claims are fully supported by a recent report by the Legislative Auditor. Yet, there is no acceptance of responsibility.

And then in a Star Tribune (May 17) opinion column entitled “WHAT DID THEY DO TO MY U?” the University’s former chief of clinical cardiology, Robert F. Wilson, wrote: The administration is plagued by cronyism and conflicts of interest. There are legitimate questions about the transparency and truthfulness of its leaders. Poor leadership is how we got where we are, not lack of money.

And it shows on the bottom line.  In the national rankings of medical schools, we continue to drop.

This has been a story of leadership. Both men were clearly talented but they did not bring the same vision of leadership nor the same elements of character. Nor did they bring about the same results.

Who would you follow?

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