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Interview Profile

 

 

Interview Information:

Three interview sessions: 1 August 2011 (am), 1 August 2011 (pm), 11 November 2011
Total approximate duration: about 5 hours
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. (email)

 

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:

Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

 

About the Interview Subject:

Dr. Stephen Paul Tomasovic (b. 1947, Bend, Oregon) joined the Department of Tumor Biology at MD Anderson in 1980.  He decided to switch his career focus from research to administration and had an impact on educational initiatives and faculty leadership at the institution.  Dr. Tomasovic founded and served as the first Director of the Cancer Biology Program.  He served Vice President roles for Educational Programs and Extramural Programs (now Global Academic Programs).  He served as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2006 until his retirement in 2011.

 

Major Topics Covered

Personal and educational background

Military experience and impact on leadership

The Cancer Biology Program

Building multi-disciplinary research at MD Anderson

Creating multi-disciplinary education at MD Anderson 

Evolution of Leadership and observations on leadership within MD Anderson structure

The Faculty Senate and the model of faculty leadership at MD Anderson

The Office of Academic Affairs

MD Anderson in transition to its fourth president, Ronald DePinho

 

A note on transcription and the transcript:

This interview had been transcribed according to oral history best practices to preserve the conversational quality of spoken language (rather than editing it to written standards).

The interview subject has been given the opportunity to review the transcript and make changes: any substantial departures from the audio file are indicated with brackets [ ].

In addition, the Archives may have redacted portions of the transcript and audio file in compliance with HIPAA and/or interview subject requests.


Table of Contents

 

Session One: 1 August 2011 (am)

 

The Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project
Chapter 01 / Overview

 

Vietnam Trains an Administrator
Chapter 02 / Military Service

 

Choosing Cancer Research
Chapter 03 / Professional Path

 

Joining the Department of Tumor Biology at MD Anderson
Chapter 04 / Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas

 

The Cancer Biology Program
Chapter 05 / Building the Institution

 

Fostering Innovation and Multi-disciplinary Research
Chapter 06 / Building the Institution

 

Academic Affairs: Administrative Structure and the Role of the Vice President
Chapter 07 / An Institutional Unit

 

An Ability to Work With and Within Structure
Chapter 08 / The Administrator

 

 

Session Two: 1 August 2011 (pm)

 

The MD Anderson Presidents: Continuity of Leadership
Chapter 09 / Key MD Anderson Figures

 

A Lesson About Leadership and an Institutional Blind Spot
Chapter 10 / The Leader

 

Institutional Reorganization and Becoming Vice President of Academic Affairs
Chapter 11 / Building the Institution

 

The Education Council, Sister Institutions, and Views On Leading Faculty
Chapter 12 / Building the Institution

 

The Faculty Senate and a Vision of Faculty Influence
Chapter 13 / Building the Institution

 

A Mark Left on Education and Faculty Achievement
Chapter 14 / View on Career and Accomplishments

 

 

Session Three: 11 November 2011

 

Serving as Special Assistant to Dr. Oliver Bogler
Chapter 15 / Institutional Change

 

Changing Institutional Focus Under a New President
Chapter 16 / Institutional Change

 

Academic Programs under a New President
Chapter 17 / Institutional Change

 

Travel, Photography, and a Story about Meerkats
Chapter 18 / Post Retirement Activities


Chapter Summaries

 

 

Session One: 1 August 2011 (am) (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 01 (Overview)
The Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Value of the Oral History Project
  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research
  • The History of Health Care, Patient Care

In this Chapter, Dr. Tomasovic provides an overview of the Historical Resources Center –which he founded-- and the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project that it oversees. 

 

Chapter 02 (Military Service)
Vietnam Trains an Administrator (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • Professional Path
  • Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine
  • Influences from People and Life Experiences
  • Military Experience
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents

In this Chapter, Dr. Tomasovic talks sketches his educational background and describes the significance of his military service.  Drafted as a college senior, his service in Military Intelligence during the Vietnam War not only gave him focus for his later graduate studies, but also strengthened specific characteristics and skills that would eventually suit him to a career in administration. 

 

Chapter 03 (Professional Path)
Choosing Cancer Research (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Overview
  • Definitions, Explanations, Translations
  • The Researcher
  • Personal Background

In this Chapter, Dr. Tomasovic traces the evolution of his interests in graduate school, eventually leading him to focus on cancer research.

 

Chapter 04 (Joining MD Anderson/Coming to Texas)
Joining the Department of Tumor Biology at MD Anderson 
(listen/read)

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • Portraits
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Professional Path

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic talks about coming to MD Anderson in 1980 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tumor Biology (now Molecular and Cellular Biology). He explains that this was the period when Dr. Charles LeMaistre [Oral History Interview] and Dr. Frederick Becker [Oral History Interview] were bolstering the basic sciences.  He explains how he re-evaluated his career, and shifted toward a focus on administration. 

 

Chapter 05 (Building the Institution)
The Cancer Biology Program (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • On Research and Researchers
  • On the Nature of Institutions
  • Building the Institution
  • The Administrator

Dr. Tomasovic begins this chapter with comments on MD Anderson’s perceived weaknesses in basic research.  He talks about the important role that graduate students serve in driving research at an institution and how they were integrated into departments at MD Anderson. He then describes his first “forays into leadership”: e.g. during 1986-’88 he created and directed the multi-disciplinary Program in Cancer Biology (first called Interdisciplinary Studies in Cancer Biology) in the Graduate School in Biomedical Sciences. 

 

Chapter 06 (Building the Institution)
Fostering Innovation and Multi-disciplinary Research (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Multi-disciplinary Approaches
  • Growth and/or Change
  • The Business of MD Anderson
  • Portraits

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic talks about how interdisciplinary work –at MD Anderson and in general--  is crucial to treating cancer and fostering creativity in research.

 

Chapter 07 (An Institutional Unit)
Academic Affairs: Administrative Structure and the Role of the Vice President (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Professional Path
  • Portraits
  • Understanding the Institution
  • MD Anderson Snapshot
  • Overview

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic provides an overview of the administrative structure of the Division of Academic Affairs and his responsibilities as Senior Vice President. 

 

Chapter 08 (The Administrator)
An Ability to Work With and Within Structure (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Leader
  • The Administrator
  • On Leadership
  • Professional Path
  • The Administrator
  • Mentoring
  • Collaborations
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic reflects on his leadership style and how this has facilitated his effectiveness.  He notes how he came to the attention of James Bowen, then Vice President for Academic Affairs, who worked with him in creating the Faculty Senate (Dr. Tomasovic was the first Chair, ’91-93), and who appointed him Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs (1994).  The session closes with a sketch of the institutional flux in play during 1998 when Dr. Mendelsohn [Oral History Interview] assumed leadership of MD Anderson.

 


Interview Session 2: 1 August 2011 (pm) (listen/read)

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 09 (Key MD Anderson Figures)
The MD Anderson Presidents: Continuity of Leadership (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Snapshot
  • Portraits
  • Institutional Processes
  • The Business of MD Anderson
  • Understanding the Institution
  • The Institution and Finances
  • The Healthcare Industry

Dr. Tomasovic begins this chapter with the observation that MD Anderson is unusual because of the long tenure of its key leaders and administrators.  He characterizes the three presidents and gives examples of how the institution successfully met the managed care crisis. He notes that the institution has faced strong, external financial challenges at the transitions between Dr. LeMaistre and Dr. Mendelsohn and Dr. Mendelsohn and Dr. DePinho.

 

Chapter 10 (The Leader)
A Lesson About Leadership and an Institutional Blind Spot (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • The Patient
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Understanding the Institution
  • On Leadership

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic shares a story that taught him lessons about leadership.

 

Chapter 11 (Building the Institution)
Institutional Reorganization and Becoming Vice President of Academic Affairs (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Understanding the Institution
  • On Leadership
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

Dr. Tomasovic begins this chapter by sketching the administrative restructuring that occurred when Dr. John Mendelsohn arrived as institution president.  He also described Dr. Margaret Kripke’s [Oral History Interview] plans for restructuring Academic Affairs –and his role in this process.  Dr. Tomasovic notes that Dr. Kripke expected him to iron out a range of difficulties arising among faculty.

 

Chapter 12 (Building the Institution)
The Education Council, Sister Institutions, and Views On Leading Faculty (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • On Leadership

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic gives numerous examples of how he has built educational culture at MD Anderson through the formation of The Education Council (2001), strengthening faculty development initiatives, serving as Vice President of Extramural Programs (to become Global Academic Programs).

 

Chapter 13 (Building the Institution)
The Faculty Senate and a Vision of Faculty Influence (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • The Administrator
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • On the Nature of Institutions
  • Understanding the Institution

Dr. Tomasovic begins this chapter by sketching the history of the Faculty Senate.  He discusses term-tenure then expands on the idea that the Faculty Senate was part of a larger vision of building faculty control over the governance of the institution.  Dr. Tomasovic also explains how he came to found the Faculty Leadership Academy (1991), devoted to nurturing leadership qualities of faculty. 

 

Chapter 14 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
A Mark Left on Education and Faculty Achievement (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Career and Accomplishments
  • Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose
  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents

This interview takes place a few weeks before Dr. Tomasovic’s retirement.  Dr. Tomasovic closes the session with comments on his hopes that MD Anderson preserves its educational mission, which distinguishes it from other care-delivery institutions.  He also hopes that his efforts to foster leadership among the faculty will endure.

 

 

Session Three: 11 November 2011 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00C
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 15 (Institutional Change)
Serving as Special Assistant to Dr. Oliver Bogler (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Post Retirement Activities
  • The Administrator
  • Institutional Processes
  • Overview
  • Understanding the Institution
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic talks about his role as Special Assistant to the Provost.  Dr. Tomasovic begins by describing the transition-support role he will serve in the coming year, assisting Dr. Oliver Bogler, who took over Dr. Tomasovic’s position as Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.  He discusses how he and Dr. Bogler are finding ways to link activities in Academic Affairs to the mission of the new MD Anderson president, Dr. Ronald DePinho.  He gives examples of how he and Dr. Bogler are streamlining the bureaucracy of Academic Affairs to help faculty and graduate students as well as supporting Dr. DePinho’s mission.

 

Chapter 16 (Institutional Change)
Changing Institutional Focus Under a New President (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Portraits
  • Institutional Processes
  • Institutional Mission and Values
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Understanding the Institution
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Snapshot

Dr. Tomasovic begins this chapter by comparing the leadership styles of John Mendelsohn [Oral History Interview] and Dr. DePinho, whose charisma, decisiveness and vision are reminiscent, he feels, of R. Lee Clark.  Dr. Tomasovic talks about the impact of Dr. DePihno’s “Town Hall” session on 7 November 2011, when he announced that MD Anderson will now take a Moon Shot approach to curing cancer, focusing on five specific cancers (not yet announced).  Dr. Tomasovic speculates on the cultural shifts this focused mission will create, influencing the commitment to global oncology, and educational programs. 

 

Chapter 17 (Institutional Change)
Academic Programs under a New President (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Institutional Processes
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Building/Transforming the Institution
  • Understanding the Institution
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • MD Anderson History

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic notes Dr. DePinho’s commitment to graduate education and research.  He describes the many discussions currently taking place in Academic Affairs to insure that all activities are in line with the new directions the institution is taking.  He this chapter with comments on his optimism that Dr. DePinho will steer the institution in positive directions.

 

Chapter 18 (Post Retirement Activities)
Travel, Photography, and a Story about Meerkats (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents
  • Personal Background
  • Post Retirement Activities
  • Portraits
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • MD Anderson History
  • Funny Stories
  • Human Stories

In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic talks about his retirement, noting that he has more energy now that he can spend more time taking care of himself.  He talks about getting back into the photography and he has planned several of the eco-travel trips he and his wife enjoy, including a trip to India to see tigers.  He tells an amusing anecdote connected to a photo snapped of him during his first trip to Africa: he is reclining in a meerkat colony, with meerkats perched on his hat and hip.  He tells of sending that photo for use at the awards banquet when he was elected to the UT Academy of Health Science Education.  Popping up amid the formal shots of other awardees, his photo caused a lot of reaction among the attendees.  At the interview’s close, he returns to the subject of Dr. DePihno, noting that the focus on institutional growth caused MD Anderson to lose some of its connection to people –a key part of the culture that R. Lee Clark established.  Dr. DePinho’s “common touch,” he believes, will help turn the culture of MD Anderson back to those roots.  In this chapter, Dr. Tomasovic also talks about the human side of R. Lee Clark.


Original Version of Interview Profile

Interview Profile: Dr. Stephen P. Tomasovic, Ph.D.
Submitted by: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
Date:  12 August 2011; 11 November 2012

This interview of Dr. Stephen Paul Tomasovic (b. 1947, Bend, Oregon) is conducted in 3 sessions.  The first two take place on 1 August 2011. The site is Dr. Tomasovic’s office in the Pickens Academic Tower at Houston’s University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.  A follow-up session on 11 November 2011 is conducted after Dr. Tomasovic’s retirement to a 20% position: the location is the Provost’s Office in Pickens Tower.  Dr. Tomasovic served as the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.  He joined MD Anderson in 1980 with a research career in mind.  He has a B.S. in Zoology 1969 and an M.S in Radiation Biology, Biological Oceanography and Zoology in 1973 from Oregon State University, Corvallis to a Ph.D. in Radiation Biology and Cell and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, 1977.  However, his career soon veered into administration.  Dr. Tomasovic has been a leader and participant in numerous institutional change processes.  In nearly five hours of interview time, he offers a leader’s perspective on MD Anderson’s structure and its evolution processes.   Dr. Tomasovic has deep knowledge of the workings and challenges of institutional culture.  He is also a very candid interview subject, who engages easily in self-reflection.  Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer. 

            The first session (1:54) opens with Dr. Tomasovic’s overview of the Historical Resources Center –which he founded-- and the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project that it oversees.  He then turns to his early educational background.  Drafted as a college senior, his service in Military Intelligence during the Vietnam War not only gave him focus for his later graduate studies, but also strengthened specific characteristics and skills that would eventually suit him to a career in administration.  Dr. Tomasovic was hired in 1980 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tumor Biology (now Molecular and Cellular Biology) during the time when Dr. Charles LeMaistre and Dr. Frederick Becker were bolstering the basic sciences.  He re-evaluated his career, however.  In the next half hour, he describes his first “forays into leadership”: e.g. during 1986-’88 he created and directed the multi-disciplinary Program in Cancer Biology (first called Interdisciplinary Studies in Cancer Biology) in the Graduate School in Biomedical Sciences.  This work presages his long-term particular emphasis on the educational culture of MD Anderson, and Dr. Tomasovic talks about how interdisciplinary work –at MD Anderson and in general--  is crucial to treating cancer and fostering creativity in research.

            During the last forty minutes of the session, Dr. Tomasovic gives an overview of his responsibilities as Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.  He reflects on his leadership style and how this has facilitated his effectiveness.  He notes how he came to the attention of James Bowen, then Vice President for Academic Affairs, who worked with him in creating the Faculty Senate (Dr. Tomasovic was the first Chair, ’91-93), and who appointed him Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs (1994).  The session closes with a sketch of the institutional flux in play during 1998 when Dr. Mendelsohn assumed leadership of MD Anderson.

            In Session Two (1:50), Dr. Tomasovic continues his narrative of the administrative experiences that led him to his position of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.  In the process, he observes that MD Anderson is unusual because of the long tenure of its key leaders and administrators.  He characterizes the three presidents and gives examples of the challenges they faced.  He goes on to give numerous examples of how he has built educational culture at MD Anderson: the formation of The Education Council (2001), strengthening faculty development initiatives, serving as Vice President of Extramural Programs (to become Global Academic Programs), and returning as well to flesh out role of the Faculty Senate and discuss term-tenure.  He also explains how he came to found the Faculty Leadership Academy (1991), devoted to nurturing leadership qualities of faculty.  This interview takes place a few weeks before Dr. Tomasovic’s retirement.  The session closes with his hopes that MD Anderson preserves its educational mission, which distinguishes it from other care-delivery institutions.  He also hopes that his efforts to foster leadership among the faculty will endure.

            At the time of the third session on 11 November (I hr), Dr. Tomasovic is serving as Special Assistant to the Provost for one year.  Dr. Ronald DePinho replaced Dr. John Mendelsohn as president of MD Anderson on 1 September: the implications of this leadership change is a primary theme of the session.  Dr. Tomasovic begins by describing the transition-support role he will serve in the coming year, assisting Dr. Oliver Bogler, who took over Dr. Tomasovic’s position as Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.  He gives examples of how he and Dr. Bogler are strategizing ways of streamlining the bureaucracy of Academic Affairs to help faculty and graduate students as well as supporting Dr. DePinho’s mission.  He compares the leadership styles of John Mendelsohn and Dr. DePinho, whose charisma, decisiveness and vision are reminiscent, he feels, of R. Lee Clark.  Dr. Tomasovic talks about the impact of Dr. DePihno’s “Town Hall” session on 7 November 2011, when he announced that MD Anderson will now take a “Moonshot” approach to curing cancer, focusing on five specific cancers (not yet announced).  Dr. Tomasovic speculates on the cultural shifts this focused mission will create, influencing the commitment to global oncology, and educational programs.  (He notes by anecdote Dr. DePihno’s commitment to graduate education and research.)

            In the last fifteen minutes of the session Dr. Tomasovic talks about his retirement, noting that he has more energy now that he can spend more time taking care of himself.  He talks about getting back into the photography and he has planned several of the eco-travel trips he and his wife enjoy, including a trip to India to see tigers.  He tells an amusing anecdote connected to a photo snapped of him during his first trip to Africa: he is reclining in a meerkat colony, with meerkats perched on his hat and hip.  He tells of sending that photo for use at the awards banquet when he was elected to the UT Academy of Health Science Education.  Popping up amid the formal shots of other awardees, his photo caused a lot of reaction among the attendees.  At the interview’s close, he returns to the subject of Dr. DePihno, noting that the focus on institutional growth caused MD Anderson to lose some of its connection to people –a key part of the culture that Lee Clark established.  Dr. DePinho’s “common touch,” he believes, will help turn the culture of MD Anderson back to those roots.