A career for today

More career news: I know very little about the new dean of the U Cal medical School, David Kessler, but this account of his career is persuasive enough to be worth some thought. The account presents a man who has made a career out of pose-striking, political grandstanding, and general self-promotion. As FDA Commissioner he ruined morale and politicized regulation, making it both more intrusive and less effective. He was also an expense account chisler. As head of the Yale Medical School, he became known as the “invisible dean,” because he ignored administrative duties and was mostly away travelling.

So why would such a man be chosen to head a major academic institution? So far as I can tell, from this story and others I know of, the reason is that the main job of someone in that position is to make the school look good and keep it in the news so that the money keeps rolling in. Part of that is being a good promoter and knowing what will sell, and part of it is skill at papering over problems that otherwise might attract attention. So the man the story describes, one who knows how to do things that look good to people with political influence and who’s adroit in extricating himself from scrapes, is exactly the man who’s needed. So whether the story is well-founded or not, Kessler might do well to send it to the next search committee he wants to impress.

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