The inside story: Power and money at center of U. controversy

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  • rfrmac Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 7, 2017 8:14 a.m.

    Like others have said, this is not the first time that Dr. Lee has used the email, with little or no explanation to the person involved, why of firing. My biggest disappointment was with Dr. Pershing and the Board. Before doing such a big thing, talk to people, get your facts straight, be open with the public, and act in the best interest of the University of Utah. It will not take "years" to rebuild trust. It will take open and frank communication, a true leader as university president, and people that truly want to make a difference. I hope the Board has the straight and courage to find a true leader, and they look at themselves as being part of the problem and clean it up. Remember this is all about finding a cure and helping patients. Not what it seems it has turned into. And don't be surprised when donors of large amounts of money what to see how their money is being spent.

  • rroehale Salt Lake City, UT
    May 3, 2017 12:13 p.m.

    Thank you so much for this article. This whole situation had me extremely confused.

  • New to Utah Provo, UT
    May 3, 2017 12:29 a.m.

    This was really good journalism. Deseret News deserves credit for bringing readers a remarkable story with many twists and turns. I think there is a long way to go and much left to learn.

  • Harrison Bergeron Holladay , UT
    May 2, 2017 10:31 p.m.

    Very good reporting by the Deseret News. After reading this - including the memo - I can actually see both sides now. And I think one over reaction precipitated another. I really don't think there are good guys and villains in this, just passionate people with incongruent goals.

  • Rockarolla West Jordan, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:15 p.m.

    Now if the U could Dump Chris Hill all would be well!

  • Commenter88 Salt Lake City, Utah
    May 2, 2017 9:19 p.m.

    Pardon my lack of sympathy for Pershing and Lee (who have million-dollar salaries funded by taxpayers), but it is extremely hard to see the man who donated the very funds for the founding of the institute, as well as providing $250 million in funding over the next eight years, as unreasonable. His memo of understanding seems perfectly reasonable, if not exceedingly generous, to me.

    May 2, 2017 8:58 p.m.

    I have personal experience with both the Huntsman and U medical services outside of cancer. Neither appears underfunded to me, but the Huntsman clearly has more financial resources and, in my personal experience, superfluous staffing. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to both for the medical services provided which have both turned out to be cutting edge and beneficial to me.

    But, there are improvements that can and should be made in both areas and I hope they find good leaders with vision who know how to build relationships and common goals. Everyone involved should be proud of what has been built at the U while recognizing that much progress still needs to be made.

  • Oh, please! Saint George, UT
    May 2, 2017 7:57 p.m.

    Perhaps the reason Mr. Huntsman "blew up" the way he did is that these issues have been brewing for a long time and he had just had it. I was surprised by his public comments but believe he wouldn't have reacted that way unless is was warranted. We don't know the back story...would be interesting.

  • mominthetrenches South Jordan, Utah
    May 2, 2017 6:49 p.m.

    Religious affiliation has nothing to do with the fact that as the MAJOR DONOR who began, set up and continues to fund this wonderful resource, pretty sure he has every right to call the shots. Anyone who was contributing that amount of money would want their say, and if you think he is wrong to, think about if this were your money. It would be foolish for anyone to actually try to go around that or change the course or objectives of what Huntsman Cancer Institute does without making sure Jon Huntsman Sr was on the same page with you. I'm sure Ms. Lee is very intelligent, but I feel bad for everyone involved that this wasn't handled more professionally. There is not only the poor image at stake, but more importantly, many who are treated daily here for their various cancers. Hopefully this is not going to impact things for THEM.

  • Bluto Sandy, UT
    May 2, 2017 4:51 p.m.

    Honest question:

    What major breakthrough has the Huntsman Cancer Institute come up with in their decades long endeavors?

    Like nearly all modern medicine, it seems to me that it's more and more all about money, profit and competing sides wanting more feathers in their nest, than it is about research and cure.

    The U of U has spent so much money building buildings and athletic facilities which they cannot afford and destroying what little green space the U used to have, that they are reaching for any pot of gold they can to get their hands on.

    Higher Education is a racket and the Huntsman's would have been better off never aligning themselves with the University of Utah.

  • dmb Lehi, UT
    May 2, 2017 4:13 p.m.

    As a Mormon, I won't be interested in reading "The Mormon Way of Doing Business" anytime soon with examples from Jon Huntsman Sr. business dealings with others. I am not sure others of our faith will be interested either.

  • Boyd in Provo , 00
    May 2, 2017 3:22 p.m.

    terra nova, I do agree with most of what you had to say but there is one thing I disagree with. With the right people in place in these key positions that have to be filled, if they are capable individuals it will not take long to get back what was lost. There is too much that is at stake here and I see very good results happening fairly quickly.

  • 2020 Herriman, UT
    May 2, 2017 3:16 p.m.

    ...because institutions that operate under such circumstances reach number one in the nation in quality, have excellent profit margins and Press Ganey scores, reach unprecedented achievement in recognizing costs and continue to grow from South Jordan, to Farmington, on campus and a new building coming to Sugarhouse and eventually Northern Utah County.

  • Johnny Triumph Lahaina, HI
    May 2, 2017 3:18 p.m.

    This article provides a lot more information but still we have an incomplete view of things. If Pershing and Lee were correct then why change positions around? In the end we still don't have a full view of the money impacts. I suspect that Huntsman saw many financial revenues of HCI being pulled over to the U Hospital system and that Lee was trying to cover losses on the hospital side of things using HCI monies. Why else would Huntsman draft a memo demanding that HCI revenues remain at HCI? If I were shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to support cancer research why would I be OK with revenues from that research going anywhere other than back into more research? I really think this is what was happening. And I think Pershing was fed a line by Lee, and that Pershing took that line up to the board of trustees, selling them all on the fact that cooperation and fewer seams were needed between the two institutions. A lot was demanded of Lee and she was trying to deliver. But HCI revenues should stay where they're intended, at HCI. I think Huntsman was totally justified in all of this.

  • LivinLarge Bountiful, UT
    May 2, 2017 3:06 p.m.

    @ Jumpyman - Salt Lake City, UT

    Your comment: "It is also ranked #1 (yes that is #1) in Adult Specialties."

    This means HCI only has one (single) adult specialty that is nationally ranked. Most of the top cancer institutes have 10 to 15 adult specialties that are nationally ranked, Huntsman has 1. Sorry to burst your bubble...

  • terra nova Park City, UT
    May 2, 2017 2:32 p.m.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. Goodbye and good riddance to Vivian Lee. She single-handedly eroded trust in every area associated with medicine at the U of U. Firing people by email, putting her puppets into positions of power, grabbing power and money earmarked for other projects has killed the trust once shared across campus departments and allied ventures. Her sick, sad management-style had no courage, no common sense and no kindness. Sadly, Dr. Pershing stood by (eyes closed and holding his nose) and let her do the hatchet work. It will take YEARS to rebuild the trust, sense of mission and camaraderie her methods destroyed.

  • Herbert Gravy Salinas, CA
    May 2, 2017 2:20 p.m.

    Do you mean to tell us that "money talks"?

    Well, duh!


  • don jackson Atlanta, GA
    May 2, 2017 1:25 p.m.

    The Huntsman family has done extraordinary service in their battle against cancer. Of course they want to make sure their money goes to what they think is best. For any non-profit organization not to work with their biggest donor is catastrophe, as clearly witnessed these last few weeks.

  • Jumpyman Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 1:23 p.m.

    LivinLarge, it is easy to cherry pick the facts. Yes the Huntsman Institute is ranked #47 out over over 5,000 centers. It is also ranked #1 (yes that is #1) in Adult Specialties. Considering the population of the State of Utah, #47 is a very high ranking. Think of just the population of New York, Chicago, LA, Houston, compared that of the entire state of Utah and then put that into perspective.

  • Back Talk Federal Way, WA
    May 2, 2017 1:16 p.m.

    I would have thought that some type of "memorandum of understanding" would have been written up when the Cancer Institute was first established and wanted to be affiliated with the U med school. Wasnt this agreed to originally?

    Certainly seems like these management questions etc needs to be cleared up and the "integration" of these two entitys agreed to. If not, draw harder lines that kept them separate.

  • Jumpyman Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 1:11 p.m.

    I find it ironic that the faculty are complaining that they didn't have enough input into the decision to fire/rehire their executive leadership. That is like me complaining that my company didn't talk to me (a mid-level manager) about hiring/firing the CEO of the company I work for. I wouldn't expect that- that is a decision made by the board of the company.

  • marxist Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 12:54 p.m.

    I think this is sort of a contest between the tenured and the non-tenured. Cancer researchers - the people who do the research - mostly don't have tenure and lead very tenuous professional lives. I think the Huntsmans wanted to give such more security. I don't know for sure, but it's a possibility.

  • LivinLarge Bountiful, UT
    May 2, 2017 12:07 p.m.

    As far as cancer research and hospitals go, Huntsman is ranked #47 in the USA with a cancer score of 57 out of 100...why all the drama when there are dozens of better alternatives around the country? Cancer is never convenient, you do what you need to do to save a life!

  • pianist Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 11:45 a.m.

    Thank you so much for another excellent article that give us even more pieces of the puzzle. Pershing indicated to the faculty that he should have handled the situation differently and apologized. He also stated that he did not reinstate Beckerle because of the Huntsmans being major donors, but because he thought it would be in the best interest of the faculty who were justifiably concerned about the way the firing was done. Now he is resigning to let the next president pick Lee's replacement. Sounds like a pretty decent University president in a very difficult situation. And the Huntsmans sound like a family not necessarily acting in their best interest, but in the interest of the vision they have for HCI. Instead of blaming Pershing or Huntsman I think we should all be supportive and hope everything will be worked out for the future.

  • 65TossPowerTrap Salmon, ID
    May 2, 2017 11:34 a.m.

    Kudos to the Deseret News for uncovering the inside story of this Huntsman - UofU food fight. The other major newspaper in SLC has made no effort to do the same thing - I wonder why.

  • thetruthisnoneofusknow Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 11:24 a.m.

    The amazing physicians who work at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital and Institute are faculty members of the University of Utah. They are amazing, and the care received there is the same across the street if you have those same doctors. This needs to be one system, for the good of the whole.

  • top of the world ,
    May 2, 2017 11:24 a.m.

    The only question this article provokes in my mind is why did Pershing and Lee resign? If they feel they have a solid foundation to support their motives and actions, why walk away?

    I wish them well in their future endeavors.

  • Owl Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:35 a.m.

    Excellent DN article on this complicated subject. Jon Huntsman is concerned about cancer care, education and research. He is not interested in running the HCI and he is willing to call out discrepancies in the system. His methods are not those of institutionally bound administrators at the university but that does not make them either inappropriate or ineffective. Donors, especially large donors, deserve reassurances that their gifts are used only for the intended purposes.

  • DN Subscriber Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:30 a.m.

    In a fight between successful entrepreneur and unsurpassed philanthropist Jon Huntsman and the academicians with big egos and slim resumes, I put my trust in Huntsman and his team.

    I have placed the life of a family member in the hands of the Huntsman team and have total trust and appreciation for their total focus on their mission and patient case, and the inseparable elements of research and education. They have made tremendous progress in all these areas in their relatively short existence. They are totally focused on defeating cancer, not petty academic power plays or gratifying personal egos. They are frugal stewards of their funds, much of which the Huntsmans have given.

    An affiliation between the Huntsman Cancer facilities and the University of Utah can be mutually beneficial, and should continue. However, Huntsman must never be subservient or it will delay its vital work.

    God bless Jon Huntsman for his good work and strong leadership to defeat cancer! The U can get with the Huntsman program, or get out of the way, but never seize control over a program that works so well.

  • Bountiful Guy Bountiful, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:24 a.m.

    How is H. David Burton surviving this? Didn't I read that he made a grave error in supporting all this childish, arrogant behavior? I admire Burton greatly, but I still cannot reconcile his actions in all this. What gives with him?

  • Pragmatic One Mesa, AZ
    May 2, 2017 10:15 a.m.

    Thank goodness I went into law. Our profession gets to clean up the messes that Doctors and Academics with oversized ego's make.

  • AndrewJackson New Harmony, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:14 a.m.

    You may not like it, and it may be less than ideal, but he who has the gold does make the rules. Institutions that have their hands out for that gold must never ignore that fact, right or wrong.
    Also, in the future maybe Utah needs to look a little closer to home for its leadership and talent needs. Too many times in the last several appointments to key Utah Institutional positions in this State our leadership has been star struck with academia from the East and has ignored the management and leadership aspects of key appointments. I hope that is not the case in the future.

  • wazzup Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:04 a.m.

    Huntsman called out Pershing and Lee for being unprofessional and then he does exactly that........acts unprofessional by using language to discredit Pershing and Lee. Huntsman and his money thinks he owns everything up on the Hill. You wonder why you won't read about this escapade in the SLTrib? It's run by one of his sons. The SLTrib allows anti-Mormon comments like it's giving out candy yet they won't do any hard hitting journalism because it involves Huntsman. Thank goodness for the DesNews who is not beholden to Huntsman. My respect for Huntsman is at an all time low.

  • Third try screen name Mapleton, UT
    May 2, 2017 10:01 a.m.

    Huntsman has built HCI brick-by-brick. When others came in short of their pledges, Jon wrote a check to fill the void. He agreed to share revenue. (Wouldn't we all like to see the books on that?!)

    He wants to see HCI live on after he passes and he's nervous that the money is not there from the state and the U. So, his memo is a way to make sure it isn't neglected or swallowed up in the medical school.

    The U needs HCI more than HCI needs the U.

    I lay this all at the ffet of Burton and Pershing. The idea that this all came to a head because Pershing didn't make it to Texas in time to meet with Peter Huntsman in time is pure nonsense. They had six weeks to process the MOU and contact Huntsman about the problem. The U chose to use Beckerle as ammo in their war, knowing that she was loyal to Jon.

    This all should have been fought out in meetings between Pershing and Huntsman as they negotiated the terms. Firing Beckerle was...sophomoric.

  • Idaho forever South Jordan, UT
    May 2, 2017 9:31 a.m.

    I had the privilege of being selected as a member of the first class to occupy the medical school on the hill in 1965. That building is now obscured by the "signs" of progress? that comprise the current status of medical education and health care delivery in our society. By virtue of my position as a neophyte physician I was exposed to the knowledge, experience and empathy of some of the most gifted and talented medical minds of our times. The names of Wintrobe, Goodman, Dougherty,
    Cartwright, Hashimoto, Jarcho................and many others are cherished memories. Sad to see "power and money" become the predominant emphasis in medical education and patient care. I support progress.........but can't help longing for the "good old days."

  • Outside-View Federal Way, WA
    May 2, 2017 9:28 a.m.

    We should have known. There is always a second side of the story.

    Huntsman claimed this was a big power and money grab. However, this memorandum seems to indicate that it was the Huntsmens and the Cancer Institute that was trying to basically force the takeover of the University Healthcare system. Take over responsibility of hiring academic professors, take over responsibility of tax money and some healthcare funds, and only report to the U President who wouldnt do anything anyway.

    I find myself in to be a Lee supporter now that we know more of the whole story. Having the Huntsman Cancer Research Center primarily do research and let the University Healthcare system treat patients seems like the right way to "integrate" these two connected entities.

    Good thing there are two newspapers in Salt Lake. These details would never be published by the Trib.

  • TaxpayerinUtah Utah, UT
    May 2, 2017 9:14 a.m.

    I really appreciate this article. It was well researched and well written. It helps nobodies like me better understand the intricacies of such a saga. I am sure that there is a great deal more that will yet be uncovered and reported on in the future.

    There are a great number of huge egos involved in the whole HCI, UofU Health System, UofU Administration, etc.... It makes me wonder if the egos are getting in the way of cancer treatment and eradication.

    What has ever happened to our state's flagship university that was once run by John A Widstoe? It seems that the University has never been the same since. Those who run the university need to remember that it is the taxpayers who pay their salaries (and of course major contributors like the Huntsman family).

    The callous way in which Vivian Lee and David Pershing went about the firing of Mary Beckerle shows that she has no administrative abilities and is one of main reasons why doctors should not be health care administrators. Doctors should not be administrators but leave that to those who can be administrators.

  • Ace Farmington, UT
    May 2, 2017 9:07 a.m.

    Fascinating article, but please note that the plural of memorandum is "memoranda," not "memorandums."

  • Palmetto Bug Columbia, SC
    May 2, 2017 9:01 a.m.

    It's impossible to really know what led to Beckerle's dismissal and without that information it's hard to know whether Lee, Pershing, and the trustees acted appropriately. Legally the school and those involved probably can't disclose this information so we're left to make inferences based on the available data. If Beckerle was fired because she attempted to create a new senior faculty position (as suggested in this article) than it seems like Lee et al acted inappropriately, attempting to increase their own power. If Beckerle was fired for other reasons this decision may have been appropriate.

    Regardless of whether these decisions were justified, how they were carried out and communicated, to Beckerle, the public, and the Huntsman family, could have been handled better. I don't think donors should have such a strong and decisive voice in personnel decisions but I can appreciate the Huntsman family wanting to be involved in how their donations are spent. They've given an incredible amount of money, which has done an incredible amount of good, not only to the HCI, but to other colleges. I'm grateful that the Huntsmans have given so generously and I hope they continue to do so.

  • Uteofferouus Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:50 a.m.

    Having worked for years at both University Hospital and Huntsman Cancer Hospital I can tell you that there never has been really good coordination and cooperation between the two. There is too much competition for limited resources and Huntsman folks have an attitude that they are entitled to more resources than the University Hospital.

    Frankly, Dr. Lee's efforts to reduce healthcare costs are commendable, something that has gotten lost in all the rumblings and Czarist tirades.

    As a healthcare professional, I would like to see these two healthcare entities focus more on improving patient care at a lower cost. I believe Huntsman Hospital should be run as a separate entity with some clinical partnerships but not sharing of governance or revenues.

    Stop the bickering and get down to the business of providing quality patient care at an affordable cost, something neither hospital has fully achieved.

  • 65TossPowerTrap Salmon, ID
    May 2, 2017 8:52 a.m.

    The more I learn about Jon Huntsman - the less I care for him.

  • neece Logan, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:51 a.m.

    @Rockwell-Baltimore, MD

    I agree with you 100%. It all comes down to unprofessional behavior. If she didn't like that Beckerlie hired someone without her knowledge then a sanction was more in order than a public firing through an email. The fact that both are stepping down in my opinion was the true course that should have been taken. As for Huntsman he doesn't' want control, he wants his money to go to the right place and that wasn't under the guidance of Pershing and Lee.

  • Lolly Lehi, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:47 a.m.

    It is a well written article. Now we will wait and see how two weeks of negative, influences the future of HCI and the U.

  • taatmk West Jordan, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:28 a.m.

    Blame it all on the PAC-12

  • Florwood American Fork, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:28 a.m.

    Great reporting, Deseret News!

  • California Steve Hanford, CA
    May 2, 2017 8:26 a.m.

    When will the mini-series air?

  • McTaylor Orem, UT
    May 2, 2017 8:10 a.m.

    Excellent article. Thanks for providing a clearer picture of what happened.

  • bamafone Salem, UT
    May 2, 2017 7:52 a.m.

    For Pershing and the powers that be in the ivory tower at the U, you should remember one thing, it's the tax payers along with the support of multi billionaires that you actually exist. Without any of that, you wouldn't be in business. Time for some humility my friends, and quit biting the hands that feed you.

  • DonO Draper, UT
    May 2, 2017 7:54 a.m.

    Jon Huntsman is an entrepreneur who made his fortune calling his own shots. No question he wants to help find cures for cancer but he wants it done his way. If he could fund it all by himself he'd do it. But he can't, and he needs the credibility a university provides. The memorandum referenced shows clearly that he wants to maintain control while using the university to help him raise money. I suspect it is not his first, nor will it be his last, attempt.

  • NWClerk Salem, UT
    May 2, 2017 7:36 a.m.

    "Beckerle be given the authority to hire 'critical faculty' for the cancer program with or without the approval of academic departments"

    Wow. That seems rather unusual.

  • Rockwell Baltimore, MD
    May 2, 2017 6:47 a.m.

    Regardless of the basis for firing Beckerle, the callous manner in which it was done, via email with no justification announced to the public, calls into question the leadership ability of Pershing and Lee.

  • Chris B Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 6:44 a.m.

    With a "leadership" as inept as Pershing and Lee, Huntsman was spot on to try and remove ad much of their authority as possible, thus minimizing their damage.

    Lee has long tried to use the HCI to cover up losses by the U hospital, which is shameful

    Good riddance to Lee and soon to be Pershing

    God bless Huntsman and the HCI

  • H. Bob Salt Lake City, UT
    May 2, 2017 6:06 a.m.

    While it's easy to see that there's a lot at stake here, I'm a bit surprised by the insinuation that "holistic" patient care was Dr. Lee's focus and that, by contrast, HCI's wasn't. My experience watching my wife's cancer care at HCI is the exact opposite. My wife's oncologist was a top researcher in two related cancer fields; her treatment plan was based on (at the time) six-month-old research findings indicating that chemo followed by surgery led to better outcomes. The difference we saw between HCI and the U was that HCI has a laser focus on one thing: curing cancer, and that the U, while a fine institution, is focused more on whatever specialty we happened to be encountering, from the ER to surgical specialists.
    An example of HCI's focus: Not long ago during a followup appointment, a nurse said something to my wife that was a bit insensitive. We both mentioned it to the doctor, but jokingly; she's past the point of being hurt by stuff like that. But the doctor, deadly serious, wanted to know who it was--he wanted to make sure nothing like that happened again. Dr. Lee, in my opinion, should have been taking lessons from HCI, not trying to take it over.

  • Wyomex Burlington, WY
    May 2, 2017 4:51 a.m.

    Money. It's usually about money.

    My experience in business has shown me time and time again that most people with money think their money more valuable than other's time, talent, intellect and non material resources.

    Like Tevya sings, " . . . it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong, when you're rich, they think you really know!"

    In his excellent essay, "The Inconvenient Messiah", Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then President of BYU, shared these relevant truths, quoting Satan speaking of this world's wealth: "What is your price? Cheap bread you resist . . . but no man can resist this world's wealth. . . Name your price . . . you can buy anything in this world for money."

    . . . even University presidents and administrators.

  • IQ92 hi, UT
    May 2, 2017 1:59 a.m.

    Thanks for the article. I am left, though, feeling as if I live in a whole different world—one without so many ambitions, hopes or 000,000,O000's.

  • water rocket Magna, UT
    May 1, 2017 11:56 p.m.

    Apparently John Huntsman feels that this is his baby, and that he should make all the decisions regarding the entire University Health Department. He has made some huge donations (for which he gets wonderful tax benefits from).

    I don't believe anyone is suggesting Huntsman shouldn't have a voice in what happens up on the Hill. But I doubt any rational person believes Huntsman should have absolute control over the entire health services provided by the University, that have been built with tax payer's money, along with a long, long history of health care, even long before the Huntsman cancer clinic ever came into existence.

    All this amounts to is a power struggle, with Huntsman using his financial muscle to gain control, because he happens to like certain things and not others. I have lost a lot of respect for John Huntsman, he is too much like Donald Trump for my liking.