UT Regents Honor Wildenthal, DMN Says, And … Remember Our Investigation?

Dr. Kern Wildenthal, appointed today as President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at UT Southwestern Medical Center. (Photo by Jeanne Prejean)
Dr. Kern Wildenthal, appointed today as President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at UT Southwestern Medical Center. (Photo by Jeanne Prejean)

When it comes to reporting about Dr. Kern Wildenthal, some reporters and editors at The Dallas Morning News just can’t help themselves.

Here’s why: As you might recall, The News did a bunch of stories about Wildenthal’s handling of his expenses as president of both the UT Southwestern Medical Center and, later, the institution’s foundation. According to charges made in the paper’s expose, more than $700,000 was identified as being either “poorly documented” or “had no tangible benefit to UTSW” or “closely tracked Wildenthal’s personal interests” between 2005 and 2010. Sounded bad.

Then, though, after more than half a million dollars was spent on multiple audits and reviews of these allegations by inside and outside parties, guess what the UT System found? Did the president owe UT Southwestern $700K? Five hundred thou? Maybe 20K? Oops. UT actually owed Wildenthal several thousand dollars, because he’d reimbursed them too much for his expenses. Nonetheless, The News stood by its skewering with this $700,000+ figure, contending that the other reviews had not been comprehensive enough.

After Wildenthal left UTSW in the wake of all this brouhaha, he was appointed to be president of the Children’s Medical Center Foundation and executive vice president of Children’s Medical Center itself. Not exactly positions that are typically filled by sketchy, self-aggrandizing double-dealers, which was the impressionistic portrait of Wildenthal as painted by the DMN.

Today brought the latest chapter in the skewering, after the UT System Board of Regents took the extraordinary step of appointing Wildenthal as President Emeritus and Professor of Medicine Emeritus at UT Southwestern Medical Center. In an explanation appearing on the regents’ agenda online, the regents told why they did it:

During Dr. Wildenthal’s administrative tenure at U. T. Southwestern, the institution more than quintupled in size and emerged as one of the leading medical institutions in the world. Four of its faculty won Nobel Prizes, 19 were elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 50 were named as presidents of national societies of their clinical and research specialties.

During this period, research expenditures grew more than tenfold to nearly $400 million per year. During Dr. Wildenthal’s presidency, more than 250 new endowed chairs and professorships were established; total endowments grew from $40 million to more than $1.3 billion; land was acquired to expand the campus from 65 to 300 acres; two referral hospitals and outpatient facilities totaling 1 million square feet were added to the campus; and the first half of a planned 4 million square foot research complex was completed.

There’s no salary attached to them, but the honorary appointments mean Wildenthal will be a senior advisor at UT Southwestern, where he’ll have an office and be afforded all the rights and privileges of a faculty member.

So, how did the DMN report today’s news? With a web story that gave a grand total of three sentences to the regents’ action, before launching into a rehash of its investigation that repeated the $700,000-figure, etc.

Reasonable observers might view the regents’ appointments as vindication for the former president of UT Southwestern. As an admission that this hounding of a good man out of his office last year was flat wrong. But, don’t look for anything like that in the Dallas daily. When it comes to Kern Wildenthal, like I said, some reporters and editors at The News just can’t help themselves.