Supporters of ousted Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO deliver petition to U of U administrators

SALT LAKE CITY – Supporters of Dr. Mary Beckerle marched to the University of Utah campus to deliver a petition. They’re urging administrators reinstate the CEO and Director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

About 100 doctors, researchers, and professors chanted their disappointment about the firing of Dr. Beckerle.

They say they were blindsided when Beckerle was notified via e-mail that her services were no longer needed. She was at the helm of the institute for 11 years.

“She wasn't given any warning," Trudy Oliver said. "She was notified at 3:15 that she was terminated that day. We think that she deserves more dignity and respect."

Oliver worked with Beckerle for the past six years.

“We're now recognized as one of the top cancer centers in our country as a comprehensive cancer center designation," Oliver said. "This is largely due to Mary`s leadership and definitely why I wanted to come here.”

Protesters read aloud the petition containing 1,400-plus signatures. They called on University of Utah President David Pershing to explain Beckerle’s abrupt termination.

“I think we all want answers and transparency and honesty and civil discourse, and that was really eliminated by the way they do things,” Oliver said.

The Huntsman family is feeling the same frustrations, after they too learned about Beckerle via email. Several employees met with Jon Huntsman Sr. on Tuesday and say he threatened litigation, and that negotiations for a $250 million donation to the cancer institute are now on hold.

“I think one thing is clear is that the University did not properly talk to, consult with, negotiate in any way with him,” Oliver said.

Huntsman was not available for comment, but Susan Sheehan, President and Chief Operating Officer at the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, says they are exploring all options when it comes to the handling of Beckerle’s termination.

For now, employees are trying to move on without their leader.

“We want to serve the patients, educate, do research; and what has happened is really going to affect our mission,” said Bryan Welm, associate professor Department of Surgery University of Utah.

For a link to the open letter of support for Dr. Mary Beckerle, click here.

While the U of U stated they do not comment on personnel issues, they released a statement regarding the leadership change. The full statement is reproduced below:

"We do not comment on personnel issues. We can tell you, however, that we take all personnel issues, including changes in key leadership, seriously. The difficult decision to make a change in leadership of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute came only after thoughtful consideration and careful deliberation, and with the full support of the University’s President and senior leaders of the Board of Trustees.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a critical operating unit of the University of Utah, supervised by the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, who is accountable for the success of all the clinical, academic and research enterprises at University of Utah Health.

Today's healthcare landscape is dynamic and competitive and we must have the capacity to adapt if we are to continue to excel. As we look to the future, we believe closer collaboration between HCI and the rest of the University will further strengthen HCI for the benefit of our patients and enable us to apply the combined talent and resources of the University's entire health system, including our outstanding researchers, educators and health care professionals, to our mission of finding improved treatments and ultimately a cure for cancer.

As part of that ongoing mission, we’re pleased to welcome Kathleen A. Cooney, M.D., as interim CEO and director of HCI. Dr. Cooney will lend her experience to this interim role as the university searches for a permanent director in collaboration with our external advisory board.

The University is grateful for the support of the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman family and the countless supporters they’ve inspired to make philanthropic donations through the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The University shares the Huntsman family's commitment to eradicating cancer and reducing human suffering from this terrible disease."