In the latest development in a dispute with the University of Utah, philanthropist Jon Huntsman, Sr. is defending the finances and work of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in newspaper advertisements and claiming that the university owes the institute $54 million, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Last month, Huntsman, who provided the support to establish the institute in 1998, and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation clashed with university officials after Vivian Lee, then-senior vice president of University of Utah Health Sciences, abruptly fired the institute's CEO and director, Mary Beckerle. Faculty and the Huntsman family sharply criticized the firing, and university president David Pershing reinstated Beckerle a week later. Lee then resigned, and Pershing announced he had decided to step down from his position early. Earlier this month, the university announced that it is hiring an independent auditor to examine the institute's funding and management and, responding to earlier criticisms by Huntsman, confirm that "[t]he university health system is not failing, nor is it bloated or mismanaged."
Huntsman responded to the announcement with two-page ads in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News in which he claimed the institute has discovered more genes for inherited cancers than any other cancer center in the world and has generated a surplus of nearly $144 million. The ads also put total contributions from the Huntsmans, the foundation, and nearly a million donors since 1995 at $534 million.
During an appearance on a local radio show, Huntsman claimed the university owes the institute $54 million under an agreement that required the school to begin paying a minimum of $13.5 million for its operating expenses starting in 2013. He also accused the university's health system of inappropriately allocating funds belonging to the institute to its own budget.
"I think University of Utah Health [Services] has tried to, for some reason, cover up what we've done," said Huntsman, who went on to say he was optimistic the relationship could be repaired, citing a conversation he had had with Lee's interim replacement, A. Lorris Betz. "Lorris Betz sat down with me yesterday. He understands it....He's going to turn this thing around and have us work together."
The university declined to comment to the Tribune on the ads' content. Instead, in a statement released to the press, it said, "We will work with key stakeholders to strike a balance between Huntsman Cancer Institute's autonomy as a self-directed research institute and its collaboration and integration with our entire university health system. We will continue to keep forefront in our mind our mission of caring for patients and seeking a cure for cancer, a vision we share with the Huntsman family."