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OK. Cards on the table.

On the matter of the sudden, shocking and horribly ill-advised change of leadership at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board cannot pretend any arm's length reserve or emotional detachment.

But, then, neither should the rest of Utah.

The University of Utah is the warp core of our state's economic, scientific, artistic and creative endeavors. Nothing else comes close.

So when the top leadership of that institution makes such a stupendous and inexplicable blunder as to oust, without any explanation or fathomable cause, the nationally renowned leader of the HCI, it isn't just the Huntsman family — primary benefactors of the center and owners of The Salt Lake Tribune — who should be outraged.

The callously announced decision by the top leadership at the University of Utah and its health sciences division to fire HCI CEO and Director Mary Beckerle without offering her, the institute's staff, the community or the institute's most committed donors any explanation or notice cannot be anything but harmful to the reputation of both the university and the cancer institute.

Beckerle was — is — a leading cancer researcher in her own right and a much-admired leader locally and among scientists nationwide. All agree that she has been a prime mover in building the HCI to national prominence, as shown by its inclusion in former Vice President Joe Biden's Cancer Moonshot effort.

In spite of all that, Beckerle was dismissed from her administrative role Monday in a cowardly email from U. President David Pershing. Tuesday, a cryptic message from Dr. Vivian Lee, head of the university's hospitals and medical school, spread the word to other HCI employees.

No reason was given.

The news did not go down well.

The staff practically rose in revolt, rightly objecting to a move that not only undermined morale but also will make it more difficult for the HCI to maintain its reputation in the scientific community and attract top talent going forward.

Jon Huntsman Sr., founder and prime benefactor of HCI, powerfully objected to what he called a brutal "power grab" by Lee. And, absent any other explanation, public or private, from Pershing and Lee, nothing else seems plausible.

The university's reputation in the area of health science has never been stronger, thanks to a string of outstanding medical professionals like Lorris Betz, John Matsen and Mario Capecchi, to name a few. Its reputation now could be threatened due to bone-headed decision-making by its administration. The only remedy in this case is the removal of Vivian Lee.

It is also deeply troubling that H. David Burton, chairman of the University of Utah Board of Trustees, signed off on Beckerle's firing, yet refuses to offer any explanation. Remembering the things that happened at the Utah Transit Authority when Burton was chairman of its board, it seems the former presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints carries an unfortunate tendency for secrecy wherever he goes.

In the wake of this administrative, public relations and cultural disaster, the University of Utah clearly needs new leadership.

And the Huntsman Cancer Institute needs its leader — Dr. Mary Beckerle — back on the job.

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