Apple cored

Unanswered: Who is protecting Dr. Michele Carbone?

The Independent sent follow up questions to Sen. Roz Baker and President Lassner in an attempt to shed light on the mysterious support Dr. Michele Carbone continues to receive.

Will Caron

A source within the State Senate has informed the Independent that State Senator Rosalyn Baker is the “chief legislative supporter of [Dr. Michele] Carbone,” the Director of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center (UHCC) who has come under fire for his mismanagement of the center and for his unheard of amount of ethical and academic violations against his own researchers.

Multiple sources have identified Sen. Baker as having been present during a December 2013 meeting of the Cancer Consortium in which recently fired University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple was ambushed after trying to remove Carbone from his position, and was told he could no longer deal with his own subordinates there. This meeting resulted in two additional appointments, Drs. Blanchette and Hinshaw (combined salaries, $600,000*), as overseers to stabilize the UHCC, which Dr. Carbone was mismanaging with gross over-spending and by alienating the center’s best researchers and grant acquirers.

*We are working out what the actual additional cost to UH is based on the two Drs. prior salaries.

These sources also identified Sen. Baker as having been present at a June 2014 meeting in which Dr. Carbone demanded additional funding to the tune of $9–10 million in order to supposedly save the UHCC’s important federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation and the P30 grant money that comes with it. Dr. Loic Le Marchand, a 27-year veteran at the center and one of these top researchers Dr. Carbone alienated via ethical and academic code violations, has explained that by keeping Dr. Carbone on as director, the University administration has all but guaranteed that the center will lose this federal support regardless of the extra money Dr. Carbone strong-armed away from the rest of Mānoa.

Because of her involvement with the UHCC and her support of Dr. Michele Carbone, the Independent asked the Senator for comment before publishing our previous piece outlining the level of corruption and mismanagement at the UHCC, noted above, and its connection to the firing of Tom Apple. Sen. Baker responded after deadline and prompted the Independent to send a series of follow up questions which we are waiting to hear the answers to. Here is the conversation thus far:

Will Caron; July 31, 4:38pm:

Good afternoon Senator Baker,

I’m a reporter for the Hawaii Independent and I was hoping you’d provide a statement as to your role in preventing the firing of Dr. Michele Carbone of the UH Cancer Center last December, as well as your role in securing an additional $9-10 million for the center in June.

We will be publishing a second story on the firing of Tom Apple and the role Dr. Carbone played in this whole episode tomorrow at 2pm Hawaii time and would need your statement before then.

Thank you,

Sen. Baker; Aug 1, 10:44pm:

Aloha Will,

Sorry I just now saw your email. I’m in campaign mode and not checking this account regularly. Not sure where you are getting your information but it doesn’t seem to be correct. Don’t know how I could have gotten money for the Center in June. The Legislature adjourned in early May. So I’m not sure to what you are referring.

I am a strong supporter of the Cancer Center and a Cancer survivor. I hope all at UH and in the larger community would appreciate the asset that both UHCC and JABSOM are to us. I don’t like to see divisiveness and one part of UH being pitted against another. I appreciate Dr. Lassner’s attention to the concerns at UH-Manoa—all it’s many programs and departments. Hopefully everyone can pull together for the betterment of the institution, students, faculty and community.

Best regards, Roz Baker

Will Caron; August 1, 10:49pm:

Thank you for getting back to me Senator. We will post your response. I was referring not to you [appropriating] money [during the Legislative session], but rather helping secure [UH] money for the center in order to maintain NCI status and P30 grant money in June. Please note that we have published an article which makes it clear these goals were not achievable in the first place. We wanted to know if you were aware of that when you were at the June meeting.


Sen. Baker; Aug 1, 11:13pm:

I disagree that [the] goals of NCI grant are not achievable but I still don’t know what money you are talking [about] that I supposedly was going to get in June.  Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of misinformation, partial information [and] disinformation going around depending on who you talk to.  Roz

Will Caron; August 2, 12:55am:

We understand and respect your support of the cancer center. What we find hard to understand is your support of Michele Carbone. If there is misinformation, then let us attempt to set the record straight.

Were you not in attendance at the June meeting in which Dr. Carbone made a request for $9-10 million in order to supposedly save the center’s NCI and P30? Did you not play a role in convincing Tom Apple to approve this money as was stated in an email sent out by Dr. Carbone himself? He [Carbone] names you explicitly as a major role-player in this decision.

Were you unaware of Dr. Carbone’s numerous academic code violations (all grievances settled so far have been settled in favor of the faculty)? Were you unaware of Dr. Carbone’s poor recruitment and management record (documented by multiple UHCC faculty and evidenced by the installation of Drs. Blanchette and Hinshaw as overseers, by the drastic decrease in qualified PIs, by the resignation of at least two top, veteran researchers, and by President Lassner’s and former BOR chair Holzner’s initial approval of Carbone’s removal)?

In light of the above, were you also unaware that had Dr. Carbone been removed, as Chancellor Apple had intended twice, the Office of Cancer Centers (which awards NCI and P30) would have automatically extended both the designation and the grant until a new director was established (2-3 years would have been bought by this move), rendering the $9-10 million Dr. Carbone requested unnecessary and, at least in part, relieving a substantial burden that was placed upon the rest of Manoa (a burden which Chancellor Apple is apparently being fired for)?

Were you not also present at the December meeting of the Cancer Consortium, following Apple’s last attempt to remove Carbone, in which Apple was told he was no longer to deal with the center? What was your role in that meeting?

How was it that President Lassner and Mr. Holzman, previously on board with the removal of Carbone, suddenly reversed their decision and allowed him to remain director while appointing Blanchette and Hinshaw as overseers? Were you aware that move would cost the university an additional $600,000 annually?

Were you aware of Dr. Carbone’s wasteful spending, including a $700,000 kitchen which he intended to use for a cooking show, which he subsequently canceled?

If you were aware of these things, why is it that you continue to show support for Dr. Carbone by attending these meetings and backing up his claims that none of these problems are his fault, despite being the director of the center? Do you support the position put forward in a report by psychologist Dr. Kim Payton, who was hired by Dr. Carbone to create the report, that there is some form of conspiracy by the nationally-recognized, veteran, grant-securing researchers (those that have been around for longer than Carbone’s time as director) to blame Carbone for these problems? Do you believe the problems at the center are not Carbone’s fault?

Or are you claiming that, though in attendance at these meetings, you did not show any support for Dr. Carbone, either by backing up his request for money or by assisting his bid to remain Director and convincing the president and chair Holzman to reverse their positions concerning Carbone’s removal? If so, can you please tell us what happened at those meetings that convinced Lassner to retain Carbone and further fund him despite his mismanagement? Can you please tell us who the players were that did convince the president to keep him on?

With anticipation of your responses to these questions,

Respectfully yours,

The Independent has yet to hear back from Sen. Baker, but will append her response once received.

The Independent also sent inquiries to President Lassner and received a response via Lynne Waters, Associate Vice President of External Affairs and University Relations. In the second paragraph of his response, the President does an exceptional job of re-packaging our questions and re-purposing them to put positive spin on the very evidence of mismanagement and corruption at the UHCC we uncovered in our piece, “UH chooses bad apple over good,” while avoiding any direct answers regarding Michele Carbone. His statements about the UHCC in the second paragraph of his response require a level of between-the-lines reading to fully appreciate:

Will Caron; August 1, 7:11am:

Good morning President Lassner,

I’m a reporter for the Hawaii Independent. I was hoping you’d be able to comment on Tom Apple’s letter that refutes your criticisms based on negative performance evaluations.

We will also be publishing another piece later today which looks, in depth, at Michele Carbone’s mismanagement of the cancer center and I would like to offer you the opportunity to make a statement about the cancer center and Dr. Carbone as well.

Lastly, you wrote in an email that “For the record: None of the alleged outside or political influencers even approached me regarding these events, much less urged action or exerted influence.”

I would like to give you an opportunity to make a statement on this as well, in light of Tom Apple’s letter back to you, which references [these influencers at the December] Consortium meeting, and states that [neither] you [nor] Chair Holzman did anything [to diffuse the situation] while Dr. Apple was repeatedly attacked by Dr. Carbone’s supporters. This will also be touched upon in the story.

Our deadline to publish is 2pm. Please send whatever statement you would like to make to me before then. Thank you.


Lynne Waters; August 2, 11:43am

Mr. Caron,

My apologies, I was unexpectedly out of the office yesterday afternoon. If it’s not too late, David Lassner can provide these statements in answer to your questions. Please let us know if you have additional requests.

Thank you,
Lynne Waters

“I do not agree with Chancellor Apple’s rebuttal letter of my assessment of his performance.  I do not plan to issue a rebuttal to his rebuttal.

“The UH Cancer Center is one of the institutions most critical to the health and well-being of our community, and the State of Hawai’i has made a remarkable and well-considered investment in the Center. The University of Hawaii deeply appreciates that investment and the trust placed in us to leverage that investment to fight cancer in Hawai’i. Since the construction of our world-class facility and successful renewal of our National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation: the revenue from the cigarette tax has decreased, the NCI has increased its requirements for NCI centers to renew their designations, and we have several years of operational [expenses]. So we will be working with the community and Cancer Center stakeholders to identify solutions for the new financial environment while continuing to strengthen management support at the Center.

“I stand by my statement as quoted regarding Chancellor Apple’s employment.  I was not at the Consortium meeting referenced.  And as noted, I do not agree with his rebuttal letter.”

Lastly, the Independent reached out to Dr. Carbone himself, offering him a chance to give us his side of the story. The Independent did not receive a response from Dr. Carbone.