Look Sharp: Or , You Ain't Heard the Last About UT Southwestern's List

Ruth Sharp Altshuler

Now, Ruth Sharp Altshuler for the defense. In this week's subscription-only Chronicle of Philanthropy, Dr. Ken's missus weighs in on behalf of UT Southwestern Medical Center's prez, Dr. Kern Wildenthal, who, as you no doubt recall, has been pro'd and con'd to death in the mag's pages over everything from that list of VIPs to his taste in wine and gifts. She's furious over earlier allegations made by Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, who wrote last month that local media hadn't done enough digging into the doings at UT Southwestern, to which Altshuler responds, his are nothing but "scurrilous insinuations."

There's more from her after the jump, where you'll also find, from this week's issue, excerpts from yet another essay by Eisenberg, who takes on UT Southwestern's executive VP Alfred G. Gilman, the man who earlier this month referred to earlier revelations from KTVT-Channel 11 and The Dallas Morning News as "poppycock," and Altshuler, whose letter he was apparently shown before publication. Writes Eisenberg, "To prepare the opinion column, I called at least 40 people in Texas as well as a few representatives of hospital associations to get their views about what has happened at the Southwestern Medical Center. The article was based on the views of a variety of people to whom I spoke in Dallas and elsewhere." Next month: caged death match. --Robert Wilonsky

From Ruth Sharp Altshuler:

What Kern Wildenthal has done at UT Southwestern Medical Center has been incredible. To have done all this, and also taken a young medical school and in 20 years as president built it into one of the best in the nation, and even the world, is a stunning accomplishment.

With four active Nobel laureates on the faculty (more than any other medical school in the world); 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences (one of the highest honors attainable by American scientists); 21 members of the Institute of Medicine (a component of the National Academy of Sciences); and more than 3,500 research projects with $350-million in annual funding, UT Southwestern almost approaches the realm of fantasy.

I find it appalling that a journal as respected as yours would print the scurrilous insinuations of Pablo Eisenberg ("A Texas Scandal Raises Questions About Nonprofit Hospitals," April 17). Dr. Wildenthal is one of the nation's great university administrators and a man of great personal integrity. He should not have his reputation ground up by irresponsible reporting.

From Pablo Eisenberg:

Alfred G. Gilman, provost of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center ("A Misleading View of a Texas Medical Complex," Letters, May 1), and the letter from Ruth Sharp Altshuler, a prominent Dallas philanthropist and supporter of the center, have accused me of irresponsible reporting and "scurrilous insinuations" in my article on the policies and practices at the center and the investigations of the center by a local Dallas TV station and The Dallas Morning News. They believe that I unfairly depicted both the work of the medical center and its chief executive, Kern Wildenthal ...

The critique by Dr. Gilman and Ms. Altshuler centers on two basic issues: the activities of the Southwestern Medical Center and the use of charitable contributions for fund raising and other purposes.

I want to be very clear about two facts. The first is that I never questioned the medical reputation and outstanding achievements of the center and its physicians. If anybody is responsible for some of the practices that I and others have cited, it has not been the responsibility of practicing doctors but that of the administrators who run the center.

The second is that I did not attack the reputation and administrative abilities of Dr. Wildenthal. On the contrary, I called him a "phenomenal fund raiser" who had built the center into a prosperous medical enterprise. I should add that I did not once use the word "scandal" in the article itself, but the editors used it in the headline they wrote. ...

Both Dr. Gilman and Ms. Altshuler imply that I don't know much about fund raising. I founded and ran a highly respected national nonprofit organization, the Center for Community Change, for 23 years and have been a major fund raiser for scores of coalitions and nonprofit organizations. I trust it was not an accident that in 1997 I received a lifetime achievement award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals ...

A great fund raiser like Dr. Wildenthal doesn't need to hand out such gifts to be successful. Nor, with a salary of more than $1-million, does he need tax-deductible dollars to pay for his memberships in civic and cultural organizations. That should come out of his pocket; the rest of us, making much less, have to pay for our own memberships in such organizations.

Dr. Gilman notes that an audit by the University of Texas gave the Southwestern Medical Center a clean bill of health for its fund-raising expenditures. The audit did not cite any criteria or standards by which to evaluate the appropriateness of the medical center's fund-raising expenses; it merely stated that every item was appropriate. The center should have hired an outside auditor familiar with nonprofit standards and procedures if it wanted to produce a top-quality report.