SALT LAKE CITY — Mary Beckerle, the Huntsman Cancer Institute director and CEO who was fired abruptly last week, was reinstated to her role effective immediately Tuesday.
University of Utah President David Pershing said the reversal was made after members of the university community "spoke out and made their perspectives known."
In a prepared statement, Pershing said it is "now time to return to our mission of serving students, caring for our patients and pursuing critical research," noting that Beckerle was being reinstated "in that spirit."
The announcement came after a 1½ hour closed-door meeting of the U. board of trustees early Tuesday that included the senior vice president for health sciences at the U., Dr. Vivian Lee.
Board Chairman H. David Burton said Tuesday that the meeting was a "learning session for the board."
But he declined to say why Beckerle was fired in the first place, citing personnel issues. He also declined to say whether the board was satisfied with Pershing's and Lee's answers.
But he did say that the executive committee of the board was informed of and supported the decision last week to fire Beckerle. While the board of trustees does not have authority over personnel matters, its members can strenuously object or agree with administrative decisions.
"You always have 20/20 hindsight, don't you?" Burton said. "The issues, at the moment they were presented to us — we did not have any reason not to support the administration."
U. board of trustees vice chairman Phillip Clinger said communication problems meant that some board members outside the executive committee were not fully informed of the decision by Pershing and Lee to dismiss Beckerle.
Clinger said Tuesday that he took responsibility for that.
"Had I done a better job of communicating the message, we wouldn't have trustees right now feeling that they didn't know the whole story," he said.
Beckerle said she was grateful to be reinstated and thanked her supporters for their voices, lauding Huntsman Cancer Institute for "the remarkably collaborative environment, the innovative ‘can-do’ spirit, the commitment to excellence, and the confidence that great things are possible" that she says exists there.
"This past week has been a very difficult one for me and my family, as well as for our community," she said in a prepared statement. "What kept me standing, in addition to the support of my family and my unwavering commitment to HCI, was the tremendous, unimaginable outpouring of love and support for Huntsman Cancer Institute and for me personally.
"I cannot express how meaningful it has been to receive the thousands of messages from friends, colleagues, patients, and our community."
Future of Lee, Pershing
It is unclear what Beckerle's reinstatement will mean for Lee and Pershing, who drew immediate and severe backlash for their decision to fire the prominent cancer researcher as director and CEO on April 17.
The announcement marked a stunning reversal for university administrators after a week of turmoil and protests.
As part of the announcement, Pershing said administrators changed the reporting structure of the Huntsman Cancer Institute so that Beckerle will now report directly to him, the president of the university, instead of Lee. It's the first time the institute's director will report directly to the university president.
University of Utah | Aaron Thorup
Beckerle's dismissal last week ignited a furious reaction from Jon Huntsman Sr., the institute's namesake, who provided the funds to found the center in 1993.
Huntsman, who angrily called for Beckerle's reinstatement and called her firing a money grab, said he was pleased with the decision.
"They've done the right thing," he said.
The billionaire philanthropist last week threatened to sue the university and said that a planned $250 million donation from the Huntsman Cancer Foundation was on hold. At the time, Huntsman called for both Lee and Pershing to be fired.
Huntsman reversed his position on Pershing Tuesday, but he did not comment about Lee in a prepared statement.
"It should be noted that Dr. David Pershing is a man of integrity who recognized his mistake after receiving inaccurate information and immediately acknowledged it and reversed his decision accordingly. We sincerely hope that Dr. Pershing will remain for many years as president of the university," Huntsman said.
"The Huntsman family and other donors are very pleased with the reinstatement of Dr. Mary Beckerle as CEO and director of Huntsman Cancer Institute," he said. "We are also appreciative to President David Pershing for recognizing the need of a direct reporting relationship for an institution the size and scope of Huntsman Cancer Institute."