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December 14, 2023
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David W. Johnson
Innovation Outcomes

Dave’s Dispatch: Never Poke a Wolverine

Gopher Gaffes on Academic Health


Pound-for-pound, wolverines are the planet’s most ferocious creatures. So clever and strong that the University of Michigan stopped bringing their live mascots (wolverine cubs Biff and Bernie) to football games in 1927. Even in cages, they became too much to handle. Growing up in Minnesota, my brother Doug and I dreaded confronting wolverines whenever we walked in the woods. They gave us nightmares.

Why am I talking about wolverines? Here’s the context. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has convened a task force to study and make recommendations regarding the University of Minnesota’s academic health mission. Unbeknownst to me, the Task Force’s background reading included my commentary, “Academic Medicine: Where Privilege Compounds Organizational Dysfunction.”

Evidently, the article struck a nerve with the University’s leadership. Myron Frans, the University’s senior vice president for operations and finance wrote a lengthy letter to Task Force Chair Jan Malcolm to “address the content of David Johnson’s opinion piece in April 2023 to correct inaccuracies.” Frans’ letter is now part of the Task Force’s public record.

It’s one thing for proponents to disagree with one another on the merits of an argument. I have full respect for this type of informed debate. It’s an entirely different proposition when one side disparages the other to score debating points. I have no patience or tolerance for this low-ball tactic. It’s petty, nasty and divisive.

Mr. Frans chose to disparage rather than debate. Among other things, he characterized my article as demonstrating “a fundamental lack of knowledge,” observed that I possess “a cost accounting mindset” as well as “a narrow focus” and further noted that several of my “assertions are simply incorrect.” When all else fails, call your opponent names. Such a derisive approach demeans the importance of the Task Force’s deliberations.

It’s not smart to poke a sleeping wolverine. Channeling my inner-wolverine, I responded with vigor. See my letter to Jan Malcolm here. In it, I establish my credentials and critique Mr. Frans’ logic. I also want this letter to become part of the Task Force’s public record. It’s only fair to let the attacked respond to the attacker.

Whether you agree or disagree with our editorial opinions, at 4sight Health we welcome and encourage any and all respectful feedback. Informed observations and opinions sharpen focus and advance public debate. Our readers can decide for themselves whether or not I got the better of Myron Frans in our battle of letters.

I will point out, however, that the Michigan Wolverines pulverized the Minnesota Golden Gophers 52-10 on Oct. 7, 2023, to claim the coveted “Little Brown Jug” football trophy. The better team clearly won.

As a native Minnesotan, I always cheer for the Gophers. Even so, this season’s one-sided loss is a good omen. It portends that strong arguments and rational logic (always on the better team) will trump bluster in the Task Force’s deliberations on how best to support “Academic Health at the University of Minnesota.”


About the Author

David W. Johnson

David Johnson is the CEO of 4sight Health, an advisory company working at the intersection of healthcare strategy, economics, innovation. Johnson is a healthcare thought leader, keynote speaker, and strategic advisor to organizations busting the status-quo to reform our healthcare system. He is the author of Market vs. Medicine: America’s Epic Fight for Better, Affordable Healthcare, and his second book, The Customer Revolution in Healthcare: Delivering Kinder, Smarter, Affordable Care for All (McGraw-Hill 2019). As a speaker, Dave plays the role of rebel, challenger, industry historian, investor and company evaluator to push audiences forward. (Watch bio video.) Johnson applies his 25+ years of investment banking in healthcare to identify ways the healthcare industry must change to deliver better care. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School, an English degree from Colgate University, and served in the African Peace Corp service. Join over 10k+ healthcare executives who read our weekly insights and commentary on www.4sighthealth.com. His third book, Less Healthcare, More Health: The Prescription for a Happier, More Equitable and Productive America, will publish in 2024.

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