SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 1, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — University of Utah President David Pershing announced Monday that he will be stepping down from his post after the controversial firing of Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle, who has been reinstated.
Pershing told listeners at a meeting of the University’s Academic Senate that his retirement plan, which was discussed with key school officials in December, was to be announced this coming August and would include the information that the 2017-2018 school year would be his last.
But Pershing said he decided to announce his decision early so the search for his replacement could “run parallel” with the search for the new Vice President of Health Sciences, “so that the person picking the new VP is the new president,” he said, adding, “I think that’s the best for all of us.”
Pershing said if he left before a new president was in place, it would add more instability to the situation by creating another interim position.
The new Health Sciences vice president will replace Vivian Lee, who resigned from that position on April 28, after taking heat for her role in Beckerle’s firing. Lee also resigned as Dean of the Medical School and CEO of the University of Utah Health Care system. She will remain on the faculty as a professor.
The controversy began on April 17, when Beckerle was informed by an email, signed by Lee and Pershing, that she had been fired from all but her professorial duties. An email informing faculty members of Beckerle’s firing, without any stated reason, went out a few hours later.
Protests ensued, attended by Beckerle’s faculty and peers, and by members of the public, including her former cancer patients.
Jon Huntsman Sr., whose donations helped found the cancer institute in 1993 and who continues to offer millions in annual funding, also was angered by the abrupt firing.
Huntsman said it left him “dumbfounded,” adding that he planned to file lawsuits against those behind what he called a horrible and unethical act. He also said he saw Beckerle’s firing as a power play by Lee.
Pershing announced on April 25 that Beckerle would be reinstated, and she would report directly to him rather than to Lee, as she had in the past. On April 28, Lee resigned from her administrative positions.
In Lee’s resignation letter, sent to faculty members and shared by the University of Utah, she said she was stepping down in the belief that her decision was best for the University, given the events of the last two weeks.
“I believe our entire community can readily return to its vital focus on health sciences, health care, education, and service,” she stated.
Lee said she had taken a lot of criticism for her leadership and actions, and had not released a public response because it would not serve the best interests of the university.
On Monday, A. Lorris Betz came out of retirement to serve as University of Utah Health Care CEO until a more permanent replacement can be found, vetted and hired. Betz served in Lee’s former positions and was instrumental in her hiring.
Betz said in a prepared statement that he was “surprised and saddened” by Lee’s resignation.