University of Utah president’s apology to Huntsman went a long way toward mending fences and earned the school another $18M donation

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Staff photos of the Salt Lake Tribune staff. Paul Rolly.

Sometimes a little humility and an apology can go a long way.

In the instance of a mea culpa University of Utah President David Pershing presented to Huntsman Cancer Institute founder and benefactor Jon M. Huntsman Sr. recently, it helped settle a simmering feud between the U. and HCI and led to an unexpected benefit to the school.

Twelve professors and doctors at the U. will be recipients of presidential “chairs” worth $1.5 million each — with $75,000 per year going to each recipient to use as he or she sees fit, thanks to the surprise contribution by Huntsman.

That is in addition to the $120 million Huntsman has committed in future contributions to the U.’s health sciences programs.

Pershing sent a letter Oct. 5 to Huntsman, apologizing for the U.’s role in the dispute that led to the headline-grabbing feud.

“On behalf of the university, I want to acknowledge and apologize for our recent actions with respect to our failure to consult with the [Huntsman Cancer] Foundation as provided in the current agreement,” Pershing wrote. “I recognize that these actions were detrimental to the long-standing history of communication and trust between us, which I deeply regret. I believe the new [agreement] between the university and foundation will help guarantee that we will work together cooperatively and will consult with each other on all major decisions affecting the operations and funding of HCI in order to ensure that HCI’s threefold mission is achieved.”

Pershing ended the letter by thanking Huntsman “for all your personal generosity and that of your family over the past decades. The Huntsman Cancer Institute is truly one of the crown jewels of the University of Utah.”

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah President David W. Pershing speaks at Jon M. Huntsman Center during the Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Huntsman said he appreciated the gesture and is confident the U. and HCI, as well as the foundation the Huntsman family has established to support it, will move forward to achieve the ultimate mission: to cure cancer, a passion Huntsman has held for decades.

“I was so touched with what he said,” Huntsman told me. “He acknowledged [the U.’s role] in the violation of the 2007 and 2014 legally binding contracts and realized how detrimental it was [to the relationship].”

Going forward, Huntsman said, “we can put everything back together.”

He decided at that point to fund the presidential chairs for doctors other than those committed to cancer treatment and research. The Huntsman Cancer Foundation already funds 14 presidential chairs for doctors and researchers at the cancer institute.

Recipients of the new presidential chairs are in other medical fields — “pediatrics, orthopedics, heart disease, etc.”

Huntsman hopes, in the future, to be able to avoid bureaucratic and academic misunderstandings “that distract us from our mission. That is to take care of the patients and get rid of cancer.”

Huntsman is the father of Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) founder and cancer survivor Jon M. Huntsman Sr. and his wife, Karen Huntsman, thank over 750 people in attendance for the ceremony, which falls on his 80th birthday. Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) dedicated the Primary Children's and Families' Cancer Research Center, a world-class facility dedicated to advancing cancer research and patient care, June 21, 2017.

Speaking of forgiveness • On Wednesday evening, I was given permission to attend an exclusive meeting at the Alta Club ­­— ­by a women’s group.

To grasp the significance of that, one only needs to remember that not all that long ago, the exclusive and venerable Alta Club, founded in 1883 as a social gathering place for Salt Lake City’s big-time players, excluded women.

But now, in all my maleness, I was the invited guest among a new breed of movers and shakers who comprise the Utah Women’s Forum, a group begun by former Utah legislator and state geologist Genevieve Atwood, who also happens to be the first woman admitted as an Alta Club member in 1987 — 30 years ago.

I didn’t even have to enter through the side door as women were required to do for many decades before the club opened its membership to them.

As I wrote for the occasion of the 30th anniversary earlier this month, the admission of women did not come without a fight. There were lawsuits and news stories putting pressure on the club and even a choice given to its all-male members by a Utah judge: Admit women or give up your beer license.

They gave up the license.

The change finally came after law firms, businesses and academic groups began boycotting the club, which they traditionally used for luncheon meetings and other functions.

Wednesday’s meeting was titled “Men, Women, Power and the Alta Club: Symbolism, Meaning, Ethics — and Forgiveness?”

Notice the question mark at the end.

The panelists were Atwood, University of Utah philosophy professor Leslie Francis, former Westminster history, literature and film professor Elaine Bapis and Utah Valley University philosophy and ethics professor Elaine Englehardt.

They noted landmarks of women’s progress in the U.S. — the right to vote, the right to oversee their own pension plans, the right of teachers to continue teaching after they become pregnant and the Equal Pay Act, which still hasn’t been fully realized.

Francis spoke of a rising executive at a national accounting firm in the 1980s who was told she could do better if she had a sweeter countenance and wore more jewelry and makeup.

But now, here they were, at a club where women comprise a fourth of its membership and half its 12-member board.

That’s significant because the Alta Club has always been an important place for networking and developing business relationships in the community, and women still account for only 4.8 percent of CEO positions in Utah, according to a UVU study.

And they were gracious enough to invite me to their monthly meeting —­ and walk through the front door.