SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Vivian Lee, the former senior vice president of health sciences at the University of Utah who resigned April 28, will keep her $1 million salary for one year, according to U. spokeswoman Kathy Wilets.
Wilets said the transitional salary is part of Lee's contract and is typical for senior leaders at the U. It will also be part of the ongoing story of who's running the U., who will be hired, and what will be the terms negotiated between the Huntsman Foundation and the university for governance of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Lee, who held the triple-title of senior vice president of health sciences, CEO of University of Utah Health and dean of the medical school, resigned after a tumultuous two weeks in which she and U. President David Pershing dismissed popular Huntsman Cancer Institute Director Mary Beckerle via email before Pershing rehired Beckerle a week later.
Lee is also a tenured professor of radiology and maintains that role after her resignation. Faculty members in the radiology department typically make less than half her previous salary. If Lee decides to stay on at the U., her salary will be renegotiated, Wilets said.
Lee was recruited to the university in 2011 along with her husband, Benedict Kingsbury, a prominent international law expert who is now a visiting professor at the U. law school.
Lee, a Rhodes scholar who graduated at the age of 19 from Harvard-Radcliffe College, came to the U. from New York University, where she was the vice dean and chief scientific officer at the medical center there. She was brought on to transform the U. health care system in the wake of the Affordable Care Act and boost innovation at the health sciences.
Many faculty members said the potential loss of Lee and her husband is a significant loss of expertise and talent.
Dr. Ed Clark, chairman of the U.’s department of pediatrics, told the Deseret News last week that Lee’s resignation was “a devastating event for the University of Utah.”
“It's difficult to see how we can recover from this tragic loss of an iconic, effective leader,” Clark said.
But other faculty members said her actions in firing Beckerle via email, a decision made in conjunction with Pershing and the U. board of trustees, was questionable and lacked transparency.
Pershing announced earlier this week that he also plans to resign, making it unclear who will be negotiating on behalf of the University of Utah in conversations with the Huntsman family over the future of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
On Tuesday, the Deseret News revealed that Jon Huntsman Sr. and Peter Huntsman had asked the U. for Beckerle to have control of all revenues and faculty recruitment for the university’s cancer program.
Brad Agle, a business ethics professor in the Marriott School of Management at BYU, called the chaotic firing and rehiring of Beckerle a “huge management failure” on the part of the administration at the University of Utah.
Agle, who studies stakeholder theory, said managers at any organization have to assess how much power donors like the Huntsmans have, whether what they want is morally legitimate and how urgent the issue is.
“If they’ve got power, legitimacy and urgency, you better be managing them,” he said.
In regards to Lee’s compensation package after resigning, Agle said the university should be transparent.
"It's really hard for the public to know, is this an appropriate use of our funds?" he said. "The university owes it to the public, if they're going to give (Lee) that salary, to at least give the public some idea why that's appropriate."
Agle's colleague Eva Witesman, a BYU public management professor who specializes in public and nonprofit sector management, said the struggle for control at the Huntsman Cancer Institute is a complex case study in business ethics.
Nonprofits such as the Huntsman Cancer Foundation — created by the Huntsman family for the sole purpose of supporting the cancer institute — have a responsibility to be responsive to their founders' vision, Witesman said.
But because the University of Utah is a public institution, that means taxpayers and the Utah Legislature deserve a say in what happens to an institution like the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
On top of that, Witesman said, researchers and faculty members come from a long tradition of institutional autonomy, solidified in things like the tenure system.
"You've got a mix of three different institutions," she said. "What I would look for is a governing board or body that really represents all three of those separate interests — some sort of governance structure that says, 'Here's how much voice the foundation should have, here's how much voice the research side should have, here's how much voice the public side should have.’"
Although she declined to talk about Lee’s salary in particular, Witesman did say that public institutions need to start paying "top talent our top dollar so that we can recruit the best people to shepherd our donor dollars."
When public institutions don't do that, the private sector tends to bleed people away in what Witesman calls a "brain drain."
"If (Lee) is top talent, I think it's a good idea to pay her as such," she said.
In terms of base salary, Lee was the fourth-highest paid employee at the U. in 2016. Kyle Whittingham, the head football coach at the U., earned a $3.2 million salary in 2016. Larry Krystkowiak, the head basketball coach, earned $2.7 million in salary. Dr. John Smith, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating spine deformities in children and teens, earned $1.5 million.
These figures do not include the value of employer paid benefits, leave paid or bonuses.
Lee also received a $247,500 bonus last year, the only one she has received since joining the U. in 2011, Wilets said.
According to Utah’s public finance website, Beckerle earned about $571,000 in salary last year, and Pershing earned about $689,000.
Compensation figures for top health care leaders varies around the nation. The former CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Charles Sorenson, earned nearly $2 million in 2015, as shown by the organization's most recent IRS filings. Sorenson retired in October 2016.
Dr. Robert Grossman, the CEO and dean at NYU Langone Medical Center, where Lee was once a senior leader, earned $5.2 million last year, according to IRS filings. Mayo Clinic president and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy earned $2.3 million. A. Craig Hillemeiere, the CEO of the Hershey Medical Center at Penn State and the dean of the Penn State College of Medicine, earned $605,000.
As part of the package to recruit Lee, her husband earns $292,550 in salary as a visiting professor in the law school.
Law school dean Robert Adler said Kingsbury’s compensation was based on his international reputation and his salary at his home institution, NYU School of Law.
Adler also noted that Kingsbury's teaching evaluations "have ranged from superb to perfect" on a six-point scale and called him a "tremendous asset" to the U. law school.
Teneille Brown, a law professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said the addition of Kingsbury was a major coup for the school.
"Benedict has been a terrific colleague in every way," she said. "And you only need to glance at his publications and scholarly accomplishments to realize how lucky we have been to have him visiting at our law school."
Pershing and Lee also live in university-owned housing, a tradition because of the amount of hosting and entertaining that top administrators do for donors and visitors, according to U. spokesman Chris Nelson.
Repeated attempts to reach Lee for comment have been unsuccessful.