Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO fired via email with no explanation: 8 things to know

Several members of the Huntsman family, whose charitable donations helped found the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, have condemned and threatened to sue the University of Utah Health Care system in the wake of the abrupt firing of the institute's CEO, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

The move has also elicited uproar among faculty members within the university's research and treatment centers.

Here are eight things to know about the situation, according to the report.

1. Mary Beckerle, PhD, a cancer researcher and former director and CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, said she was informed she was fired in an email Monday afternoon. She claims the email didn't include any reasons why she was being let go. She joined the university's faculty in 1986 and was named CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2006.

2. Several Huntsman family members said they were not given advanced noticed of Dr. Beckerle's termination. Billionaire philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr. said there will be "many lawsuits" in response to this "power grab by an unethical and dishonest Vivian Lee [MD, PhD]," CEO of Salt Lake City-based University of Utah Health Care, according to the report. "This was just a vicious, mean-spirited call by Vivian Lee, who is totally out of control, and by a president who doesn't exercise any leadership whatsoever," Mr. Huntsman added in reference to David Pershing, PhD, president of the University of Utah.

3. The Huntsman family founded the cancer institute in 1995 and provides about one-third of its annual operating budget, according to the report. The institute is administered as part of the University of Utah Health Care system.

4. Drs. Lee and Pershing declined to comment publicly on the matter. Officials of the university said the firing was due to a confidential personnel issue, and university spokeswoman Kathy Wilets issued a statement Wednesday that said "thoughtful consideration and careful deliberation" went into this change, according to the report.

"As we look to the future, we believe closer collaboration between [the institute] and the rest of the university will further strengthen [the institute] for the benefit of our patients and enable us to apply the combined talent and resources of the university's entire health system ... to our mission of finding improved treatments and ultimately a cure for cancer," the statement continued.

5. Dr. Beckerle's termination comes amid final stages of negotiations on a $130 million funding agreement between the Huntsman family's foundation and the university, leaving the deal unsigned.

6. Faculty of the university's research and treatment centers has voiced opposition to Dr. Beckerle's firing. Many walked out on Tuesday during a meeting over the controversy with administrators. Others shouted into speakers and held signs with messages such as "We want Mary," "#TeamMary" and "Mary is HCI," according to the report.

7. The upset faculty has also hand delivered copies of an online petition to Dr. Pershing's staffers, calling for Dr. Beckerle's reinstatement. As of Wednesday evening the petition had nearly 1,600 signatures.

8. Kathleen Cooney, MD, a clinical oncologist and hereditary prostate cancer researcher, professor and chair of the university's department of medicine, will take over leadership of the Huntsman Cancer Institute on an interim basis.

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