Since then, we noted yet another variant on this theme, university presidents who were supposedly the top leaders of failed financial firms, and then who did various dances to try to avoid accountability for these firms' fates. That theme recently made it to the big time, a front page article on the Sunday Business section of the New York Times.
The most extreme version was the case of that of Eugene Trani, the former President of Virginia Commonwealth University ( full disclosure: I spent 7 years on the faculty of its medical school, and am still an adjunct faculty member). Trani turned out to be on the board of a tobacco company, and soon after this was revealed, retired from the presidency (see most recent blog post here).
Now a Washington Post blogger has yet another twist on this case:
Eugene P. Trani left the presidency of Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009 after improving the school and expanding its presence in downtown Richmond. But Trani was also a director of LandAmerica Financial Group, a Richmond-area title insurer that went belly-up in 2008, taking with it millions in investors' money.
Today, Trani is on the board of Richmond-based Universal Corporation, a global tobacco marketer. Universal's subsidiaries have just agreed to pay $8.98 million in a tobacco bribery scandal that stretches from Brazil to Thailand to Africa. The firm has issued a public apology. Trani received $159,032 in total compensation for his board service.
So Trani was not only on the board of directors of a tobacco company, he was on the board of directors of a tobacco company that was forced to settle charges of international bribery and issue apologies for same, and just to ice the cake, was on the board of a failed financial company whose failure affected residents of the locality which his university served.
As the saying goes, "the fish rots from the head down." How can academic leaders expect integrity from their faculty when they willingly take on such grotesque conflicts? Leaders who thus try to serve two, or many masters are likely to run health care organizations that do not serve their primary constituents, patients who expect good care, learners who expect honest, competent teaching, and the public who expects important, unbiased research, well. If we really want to reform health care, we need leaders who put the mission, not their own pocketbooks, prestige, and cronies, first.