An AAUP Target Disputed an Investigation’s Findings. So It Tried a Pre-emptive Attack.

March 16, 2015

The University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has taken the unconventional step of lashing out at the American Association of University Professors over a pending investigative report on the medical facility, pre-emptively releasing the document and denouncing it as inaccurate and unfair.

The cancer center’s executive leadership on Friday sent the AAUP a letter calling the association’s draft report on its investigation’s findings a "biased editorial by misinformed individuals seeking to paint M.D. Anderson in the most negative light, possibly in hopes of recruiting additional membership to their labor union."

In an email marking the latest of several attempts by M.D. Anderson to strike back at the AAUP, Jim Newman, a cancer-center spokesman, sent news organizations copies of both the center’s response to the draft report and the report itself, which the AAUP had stamped "confidential" and "not for release."

"M.D. Anderson does not typically release drafts of reports," Mr. Newman’s email said. "However, given the surprising focus of this document and the significant errors throughout, we feel that we need to be fully transparent about what the AAUP considers an honest and fair assessment of a public institution operating under both state and federal law."

Gregory F. Scholtz, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance, on Friday said it characterizes such draft reports as confidential "mainly to protect the institution" until responses can be incorporated into the document and inform possible revisions.

"If they are concerned with inaccuracies in the report, I would assume they would not want them circulated widely," Mr. Scholtz said. "If they are truly inaccuracies, we will correct them."

A Refusal to Submit

The AAUP’s draft report focuses on the cases of two faculty members whose contracts the center refused to renew, and a third whom it reassigned from the faculty to an administrative position. The report concludes that the center has disregarded AAUP principles dealing with tenure, due process, and shared governance.

The cancer center’s response to the report argues that it ignores steps the center took to afford the professors due process and to give faculty members a say in whether they are reappointed. The response also argues that the report contains "glaring" factual errors and potentially libels one administrator.

M.D. Anderson’s pre-emptive attack on the AAUP’s preliminary findings fits into a broader pattern of refusal by the cancer center to submit to the association’s scrutiny and to follow the usual protocol attached to such investigations.

Last summer M.D. Anderson responded to the AAUP’s plans to investigate it by sending the association a long list of questions doubting its authority in such matters. The center subsequently rejected the AAUP’s assurances of a fair investigation.

In October the University of Texas system’s Board of Regents unanimously passed a resolution backing M.D. Anderson’s resistance to the professors’ association and endorsing the cancer center’s AAUP-challenged policy of granting tenure to its faculty members only temporarily, for the duration of seven-year contracts.

As reported in the Houston Chronicle and in a medical-industry publication, The Cancer Letter, the cancer center’s faculty members last month directly appealed to the regents and other university-system officials to push the center’s administration to take steps to improve faculty morale.

In November more than 150 faculty members at the center unanimously passed a resolution saying they were concerned about both the continued departure of colleagues and "a climate of fear and the likelihood of retaliation against faculty" who disagree with the center’s executive leadership.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.