SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah President David Pershing, in a letter to cancer research benefactor Jon M. Huntsman Sr., says he deeply regrets actions by the university "which were detrimental to the long-standing history of communication and trust between us."
Simmering friction between the university and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation came to a head in the spring when Pershing and Dr. Vivian Lee, former senior vice president of U. health sciences, fired Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle via email.
Beckerle's firing, which took her and Huntsman by surprise, ignited an angry media blitz from Huntsman, who called for Pershing and Lee to be ousted from the U.
The letter, released to the Deseret News by Huntsman in conjunction with an interview with Deseret News Opinion Editor Hal Boyd which was published online Tuesday, also apologizes for the university's “failure to consult with the Huntsman Cancer Foundation as provided in current agreements." Huntsman's comments appear in the Opinion section of the News today.
University spokesman Christopher Nelson late Tuesday said there would be no further comment from Pershing or the university beyond the letter itself.
Beckerle's termination triggered protests on campus from institute faculty, students and cancer patients. She was quickly reinstated and Lee resigned.
Pershing also moved up the timetable of his planned retirement as university president, but he has said he will remain in the position until the Utah State Board of Regents hires his successor.
Pershing's letter also thanks Huntsman for his “personal generosity and that of your family over the past decades.
“The Huntsman Cancer Institute is truly one of the crown jewels of the University of Utah,” Pershing wrote.
The president wrote that the new supplemental memorandum of understanding “will help guarantee that we will work together cooperatively and will consult with each other on all major decisions affecting the operations and funding of Huntsman Cancer Institute in order to ensure HCI’s three-fold mission is achieved.”
Pershing's letter is dated Oct. 5, the same day that the university's board of trustees approved the supplemental memorandum of understanding between the university and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
After a lengthy closed-door session but no public discussion, the trustees voted 8-1 to ratify the agreement, effectively putting an end to a monthslong public power struggle followed by several months of negotiation over a new memorandum of understanding between the foundation and the university.
Following the vote, Pershing spoke briefly, explaining that after months of discussion, the parties emerged in a better position “to bring together our shared resources, world-class talent and experience to fight cancer and care for our patients.”
He added, “On a more personal note, I would just like to say that the university is exceedingly grateful for the incredible support and the passion of the Huntsman family over the past decades and most especially for the new $120 million Huntsman Cancer Foundation donation to HCI that Jon Huntsman Sr. so graciously announced a few months ago at the dedication of the Primary Children’s and Families Cancer Research Building. This is a great day for all of us.”
In his conversation with Boyd, Huntsman noted his appreciation for Pershing's letter:
"It acknowledged that contracts had been breached. As important, it acknowledged that trust had been broken. That admission demonstrates the humility of the individual, and the deep introspection this difficult time requires of us all. President Pershing and I have always shown our mutual respect and affection for one another. That feeling exists now more than ever."