A new plan to calm a broadening controversy at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center won’t solve the main problems, according to least a half-dozen faculty members who have spoken out, written letters or filed complaints with the university.
Michele Carbone, who was made director of the center in 2009 after he worked in various other roles there, is portrayed by some of the vocal faculty members as an iron-fist leader who has violated their academic freedom, prompted the departure of well-respected researchers and only hired people who he knows will back him. A number of faculty members have said his leadership has eroded morale within the center and damaged its international reputation. They argue that the dysfunctions could even pose a threat to outside funding and, ultimately, to public health in the state.
Carbone has not responded to a Civil Beat request for comment.
The new plan, unveiled by university officials at a meeting Thursday, does nothing to remove Carbone and it is not very convincing to many of his critics.
“If you sense any frustration on our part … it’s only because we’ve been working assiduously through the system, and (this plan) might not mean any change for us,” testified Lynne Wilkens, an epidemiology specialist who helps oversee biostatistics and informatics at the center.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding here,” Wilkens later said, pointing to the plan’s first page, which she says inaccurately portrays her workplace as a treatment center and not an institution devoted to preventative research.
The faculty members say the university has done little in response to their concerns, which they see as possible evidence that key administrators are beholden to outside interests in healthcare and the Legislature.
The proposal was put together by five administrators, including Board of Regents Chair John Holzman and President David Lassner, and designates a leadership team that they say will “strengthen management support.”
That four-member leadership team includes Carbone and Virginia Hinshaw, the former UH Manoa chancellor who professors and researchers say has close ties to Carbone and who has been advising him for years.
Several faculty members, including Wilkins and long-time professor Loic Le Marchand, attended the Board of Regents academic affairs committee meeting Thursday urging the regents to take action, reminding them that Carbone has been the subject of dozens of faculty grievances, according to the professor.
The professors and researchers questioned lines of authority at the university, pointing to reports that UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple has twice attempted to remove Carbone to no avail.
Carbone’s leadership has also drawn the criticism of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the UH Manoa Faculty Senate, whose chair, David Ericson, also testified Thursday. Ericson said the Faculty Senate raised questions in a resolution when Carbone was first hired in 2009.
The plan was distributed at the beginning of the meeting Thursday, before public testimony, much to the surprise of the faculty members who showed up. The cancer center’s leadership then went into a closed-door executive session.
The response plan, which is two and a half pages long, states that the “leadership team” is in charge of establishing “a sound organizational and financial capacity” for the center and the Hawaii Cancer Consortium. That consortium includes the center, the university medical school and three private Hawaii hospitals.
The cancer center is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a “consortium cancer center” — a prestigious credential that is granted to just 68 research institutions around the country.
The new plan says the management team will make sure that national status is renewed by accomplishing a number of goals, including ensuring proper stewardship of taxpayer money, enhancing communications, improving morale and developing a prudent financial plan.
“It’s time to move beyond the interpersonal drama that has played out in recent weeks,” the plan states. “We are committed to working together to polish our jewel, the UH Cancer Center, the only designated National Cancer Institute within 2,500 miles of Hawaii’s cancer patients, hospitals and practitioners.”
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