Houston News & Search
Photo: Gary Coronado, Houston Chronicle
Dr. Ron DePinho was paid more than $2 million as president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he drew one of the nation’s highest academic medical salaries, but he’ll also make out well in the professor position he assumed a week ago after resigning under pressure.
Under a package approved by UT System regents Tuesday, DePinho will receive a base pay of just under $800,000, the third-highest salary among the cancer center’s non-administrative faculty. Including other supplemental pay, incentives and benefits, DePinho’s total package is expected to top $1 million.
“In approving this item, the board is also asked to make a finding that the agreement is in the best interest of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center and of the UT System,” regent chairman Paul Foster said at a specially called meeting of the board at which the package was approved unanimously and without discussion.
DePinho stepped down as president earlier this month following years of turmoil at the elite cancer research hospital, declaring that “this great and noble institution needs a new president who will inspire greater unity and a sharp operational focus on navigating the tectonic changes in health-care delivery and economics.” He said the decision followed “months of self-reflection and deep engagement with the chancellor and our Board of Visitors” and he apologized for his “shortcomings.”
The center had recorded operating losses of more than $460 million over a 16-month period that ended in December, leading to the layoffs in January of 778 employees. The center was in the black in January and February, the latest months for which financial data is available.
As a professor of cancer biology, DePinho also will receive $1 million annually in institutional funding to support his research, according to a March 21 letter from Dr. Raymond Greenberg, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, to DePinho that laid out the package regents would vote upon. The letter said such funding would be provided “for a period not to exceed eight years” and would be subject to annual reviews to assess progress. Such funding can only be spent on research, expenses like infrastructure, overhead and costs of experiments.
Research experts said the amount and length of the deal seemed like a lot for an established researcher. They said they might expect that amount for a few years for a new hot-shot recruit.
Greenberg pushed back against such views.
“Dr. DePinho has been the chief fund-raiser for the entire institution over the past five and half years, raising more than $1 billion to support its research efforts,” Greenberg wrote the Chronicle in a response to questions. “Unlike most faculty members, however, he raised these funds to support the broad institutional research effort rather than to support his own research laboratory.”
Greenberg said DePinho could have raised money in his own area of research interest, where he maintained highly competitive federal grant support for his own research.
Some MD Anderson professors who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed dismay at the generosity of the package. Among professors, only Dr. Thomas Burke, the center’s former physician-in-chief and a current professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine, and Dr. Garrett Walsh, a professor of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, earn more than DePinho.
Both make slightly more than $800,000 a year. The highest salaried professor in cancer biology before DePinho’s appointment made $471,099 annually and the chairman earns $435,012 a year.
The faculty senate declined comment.
DePinho’s faculty salary was negotiated when he was recruited as president nearly six years ago, Greenberg wrote the Chronicle in his e-mail. He said the current amount is 11 percent higher than the $720,000 agreed upon at the time, “reflecting average annual increases of less than 2 percent.” He added that MD Anderson provided the system with the recommended salary level and that “there are few comparisons because the institution has few faculty that are members of both the prestigious National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Science.
MD Anderson’s administration noted that the agreement is consistent with the one previously made with Dr. John Mendelsohn, DePinho’s predecessor, who stepped down in 2011.
Mendelsohn, a professor of genomic medicine and director of MD Anderson’s Khalifa Institute for Personalized Therapy, receives base pay of $702,975.
The administration’s response was provided after the Chronicle asked if DePinho wanted to comment on the package.
DePinho informed employees that he would join MD Anderson’s faculty less than a week after he announced his resignation. At the time, his post-presidency plans were unclear.
Under the newly approved package, DePinho will receive $795,505 annually, plus annual payments under MD Anderson’s Supplemental Annual Plan to be determined by the provost. The plan, funded through doctor fees, provides basic science faculty with an additional 18.5 percent of their salary and clinicians with 30 percent. Greenberg said DePinho’s level will be determined based on the “balance of work” he performs. DePinho is an MD but has spent most of his career in the lab.
The package also provides for “all usual and customary benefits” accorded to MD Anderson faculty and an individual travel budget not to exceed $40,000 per year.
Greenberg called DePinho “arguably one of the most distinguished, nationally recognized researchers on the MD Anderson campus. With more time to devote to his research, it is highly likely that he will bring in substantial additional resources to the institution.”
In the letter to DePinho about the package, Greenberg expressed gratitude for DePinho’s “continued commitment to MD Anderson and the UT System.
“I thank you for your dedicated service to MD Anderson, to the UT System and to the people of Texas,” Greenberg wrote. “I look forward to your continued service in the fight to Make Cancer History.”
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