I think that what this piece demonstrates is how arguments for inclusion are made. There's always a degree of mystery of how this happens from the outside looking in. One might be tempted to think that opportunities simply trickle down. The history of minority-majority relations demonstrates something else. On the one hand, you need good, qualified candidates. On the other, you need good politics that additionally may include (though certainly not always), persons from within who can do the advocating and make the arguments and in so doing, structure the outcomes they and others seek. Welcome to UT, Dr. Cigarroa.
Web Posted: 12/20/2008
UT pick good news for excluded groups
by Carlos Guerra - Carlos Guerra
The Obama team has provided three weeks of great news for women and minorities, who have long complained about being systematically excluded from top leadership posts. In the next administration's highest levels will be five women, four blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian Americans.
Closer to home, the great news is that Francisco Cigarroa will be the next chancellor of the University of Texas System.
In a sense, the globally recognized pediatric and transplant surgeon has been preparing for this for most of his adult life.
But some doors didn't start opening for him — and others like him — until 2000, when the UT regents were looking for a new president of the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. When Laredo businessman Tony Sánchez — one of two Latino UT regents at the time — learned about who was on the search committee, he said, “I became very alarmed.”
In a letter he fired off to the board's then-Chairman Don Evans, he detailed his concerns: “One glance at the makeup of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee ... convinced me that this institution, founded as the medical school of South Texas, will never — of its own accord — provide the opportunity for a Hispanic to become (its) president,” he wrote.
“In addition to the flagrant personal prejudice, (a) more subtle and effective institutional discrimination prevents inclusiveness through ... policies, guidelines, job descriptions and committee assignments.
“After almost 30 years, no Hispanic has earned a permanent seat on the UTHSCSA Executive Committee and none of the school deans are Hispanic,” he continued. “No qualified Hispanic has been found to head a department, and even non-health related executive positions seem barred to Hispanics (who) comprise 70 percent of the (center's) service area and over 90 percent of the population of its outreach efforts in the (border region).”
The regents' rules, he pointed out, dictated that the search committee be made up of two regents, two community leaders of the regents' choosing, two students, two presidents of other UT health science centers, three faculty members, one administrator, one alumnus and one “classified employee.”
As a result, the 14-person committee included only two Hispanics — the alumnus and the classified employee.
Shamed after the letter became public, Evans added more Latinos to the committee. And Cigarroa went from being a midlevel med school faculty member (where he had been denied several promotions) to becoming the nation's first Hispanic to head a medical school.
He wasn't exactly unqualified. The third-generation surgeon graduated from Yale and the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he began to build his stellar credentials in the operating room. At Harvard's primary teaching hospital, he was chief surgery resident, and he became a fellow at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital.
But questions arose about Cigarroa's lack of administrative experience. These were answered after he took the helm in San Antonio and started overhauling the center's institutional culture with such changes as conducting deans meetings while making hospital rounds, expanding the center's reach into underserved border areas, and emphasizing academic medicine and original research.
For those who recall whenall Texas medical schools admitted fewer than a dozen Latinos students each year, it is encouraging that Cigarroa will now head a UT System where minorities are still significantly underrepresented among the 194,000 students and 81,000 employees. And his promotion is a hopeful sign that our state will better prepare a wider array of young Texans for the 21st-century challenges they will face.
And there are two lessons in Cigarroa's long journey: One is that nothing will change until people speak up. And the other is that there is no substitute for sterling qualifications.
© 2009 San Antonio Express-News.