University of Utah Board of Trustees meet with Dr. Vivian Lee and President David Pershing about the reinstatement of Mary Beckerle as CEO of Huntsman Cancer Insitute. | Elise Vandersteen Bailey

Early Tuesday morning, members of the University of Utah’s Board of Trustees met with President David Pershing and Dr. Vivian Lee to discuss their decision to dismiss CEO and director of Huntsman Cancer Institute Mary Beckerle.

After about an hour and a half of deliberation, they exited the board room telling members of the media that Pershing would release a statement later in the afternoon “that I think you will like.” Board of Trustees Chair H. David Burton said the only resolution they reached was to support Pershing’s decision.

The meeting comes after a week of condemnation and protests over Beckerle’s dismissal from HCI employees, community members, and the Huntsman family — whose name the institute bears.

Huntsman called for the ousting of both Pershing and Lee, saying he planned to file lawsuits if Beckerle wassn’t reinstated and the institute’s semi-autonomous relationship with the U preserved. He also said he would condition a future donation of $250 million on her return.

All three administrators — Beckerle, Lee, and Pershing — have led their respective institutions to new heights.

Under Beckerle’s direction, the cancer institute achieved comprehensive cancer center status and received praise from the National Cancer Institute, run by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health. Since Beckerle was appointed to the position the institute has discovered more genetic links to cancer than any other organization in the world, despite having been in operation for less time.

Lee has led the U’s hospital system to a number one ranking in the nation for university medical centers in quality, safety and accountability. The system was also integrated into the US Olympic Committee’s National Medical Network and its healthcare providers ranked as some of the best in the nation as far as patient satisfaction.

Pershing led changes to the application process that have made the U’s student body both more diverse and more successful. He was instrumental in the building of Lassonde Studios, the U Asia campus in South Korea and the School of Dentistry.

In Pershing’s afternoon statement, he wrote, “This past week has been an extraordinary and challenging time for our University and community. Members of our campus community spoke out and made their perspectives known.”

“It is now time, I believe, to return to our mission of serving our students, caring for our patients and pursuing critical research,” Pershing continued. “In that spirit, I am pleased to confirm that Dr. Mary Beckerle will, effective immediately, resume her service as the CEO and Director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) with authority over its cancer research, clinical care, and administrative functions.”

One HCI employee who agreed to speak anonymously before Pershing’s announcement said, “The mere fact that [Beckerle was dismissed], and the unprofessional, disrespectful way in which it was carried out, has eroded any trust and faith in Dr. Lee, among HCI staff and faculty investigators…I can’t see how Mary and Vivian can co-exist at this University. They certainly couldn’t have a boss-subordinate relationship.”

In his statement, Pershing announced that he has changed the administrative hierarchy of HCI, directing Beckerle to report directly to him rather than to Lee.

Pershing said, “The University of Utah is now working with the Huntsman family on a new Memorandum of Understanding, with the goal of reaffirming the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s role as an integrated and collaborative part of the University, while maintaining HCI’s strategic autonomy required for it to thrive as a highly ranked Comprehensive Cancer Center.”

Pershing said he regrets the disruption of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s work, which he called valuable to both Utah and the nation.

Regarding the feud with the Huntsman family, Pershing said, “We want to again thank the Huntsman family for their major financial commitments to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and especially Jon Huntsman, Sr., for his vision, energy and passion for finding ways to cure this terrible disease.” Looking forward, he wrote in his statement, “We are excited about the June 21 opening of HCI’s newest facility, the Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center, which will enable our faculty and staff to accelerate their groundbreaking research into cures for cancer.”

e.vandersteen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@EliseAbril

Elise Vandersteen Bailey
Elise is the Investigative Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle, but still writes when she can. Some of her favorite things to write about over the last few years have been research and medicine. This May, Elise will graduate with a degree in Kinesiology, after which she hopes to attend graduate school. She spends her free time wondering whether it's too nerdy to Tweet whatever "cool" graph she's found most recently. Secure contact via Peerio, Username: eliseabril

5 COMMENTS

  1. Certainly glad to see Mary Beckerle reinstated. But there is still “trouble in River City.” Dr. Vivian Lee has been very unprofessional and has still not explained her behavior in this incident. If this is an example of the kind of leadership we can look forward to in the future, the University’s reputation will suffer. Let’s wipe the slate clean and call for Dr. Lee’s resignation so we don’t have a repeat performance from Dr. Lee.

  2. Dr. Vivian Lee transformed the University of Utah as an innovator and champion for the institution and for the health of all Utahns. She challenges us to think beyond the good, to the excellent. Our entire University of Utah Health community has thrived under her leadership and her positive impact extends to both a national and international stage. Prominent leaders across academics, health care, government, and industry express constant and consistent respect for Dr. Lee and her work. She is a person of impeccable character who continuously demonstrates integrity, compassion, thoughtfulness, and fairness.

    https://www.change.org/p/president-david-pershing-public-support-for-vivian-lee-md-phd-mba?source_location=minibar

  3. Based upon what I can glean from the two stunningly professional articles by Ms Vandersteen Bailey (far better than those penned by the SL Trib and Deseret News), sounds like Ms Lee needs to go!

  4. Having worked in HR positions in the US and internationally, I must say, it is beyond the pale what the conniving Vivian Lee tried to perpetrate with the blind cooperation of a witless university president and a sleeping, stupified, anesthetized, lobotomized board of directors. Although, it may be the most dramatic event to occur in Utah since the earth cooled.

  5. It seems exclusionary that in any article that mentions Primary Children’s Hospital, no credit or ownership is recognized or given to Intermountain Health Care, given that PCH is a major player in IHC’s hospital system. With its extremely close physical proximity to the University Hospital, its identity seems to have been swallowed up by the University’s health system.

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