Dr. Michael Caligiuri, former CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, accepted a new job at a hospital in California. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

In the course of less than a month, one of Ohio State’s most influential leaders within the Wexner Medical Center absolved himself of all responsibility and job titles.

Dr. Michael Caligiuri left the university completely after almost 20 years in the span of 25 days and has already announced his new position with a cancer center in California.

Caligiuri was one of the university’s highest-paid employees as CEO of both the James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. He also was the director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center until stepping down Nov. 3, but said he would continue serving in his CEO roles. Two weeks later, he resigned completely.

The timing of his appointment as president of City of Hope’s Medical Center raises questions regarding his quick departure from Ohio State.

In an interview with The Cancer Letter, Caligiuri said his new role came together quickly after announcing his resignation.

He told the publication he decided to resign weeks ago.

Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said the university found out of Caligiuri’s resignation on the morning of Nov. 15 — the same day it was publicly announced.

Upon the announcement, the university said he would return to his tenured faculty position and serve under University President Michael Drake as a special adviser.

Caligiuri will continue in those roles until he officially starts his new job in February.

In the interview with The Cancer Letter, Caligiuri said it is “exciting to be moving to an institution that really is focused solely on cancer and diabetes, and is freed from some of the constraints and bureaucracy that exist within most matrix cancer centers.”

He referred to Ohio State indirectly as a “matrix cancer center” because of its role within an academic institution — different from City of Hope — which is a standalone cancer center.

“I think when you’re in a matrix environment, as soon as one or two people decide that they want all the resources, it’s very disconcerting and it’s very challenging to lead an organization,” he told the publication. “For example, by their design, matrix cancer centers directors generally don’t lead recruitment efforts.”

Ohio State is currently seeking a chancellor for its entire medical enterprise, one with potentially more control than the previous CEO position held.

Caligiuri’s departure comes six months after Sheldon Retchin, former CEO of the Wexner Medical Center, stepped down following criticism from top doctors across the center and College of Medicine. They said Retchin created a divide between the cancer center at Ohio State that Caligiuri ran and the Wexner Medical Center.

Drake said the chancellor role will have similar responsibilities to that of Retchin.

In a feature on the Wexner Medical Center, Columbus Monthly reported Retchin was trying to assert his control over the cancer center, which operates independently of the medical center for federal tax and grant purposes. Before his departure, Caligiuri reported directly to President Drake.

“Being collegial and collaborative on all sides of the equation is important,” Caligiuri said. “And as soon as that’s disrupted, the job really becomes unmanageable, because the cancer center director has the pressure of successfully competing for a NCI core grant that requires recruitment and retention of talent, discovery and translation into the clinic.”

Retchin is still with Ohio State as a senior adviser to Drake.

Caligiuri said it was time for him to “hit the refresh button” on his career, highlighting the lengthy and illustrious career he had at Ohio State, but realized his “job was done.”

He discussed in detail the change in leadership he has seen in his time with the university.

“In my 18 years of leadership at OSU, I’ve served nine university presidents, including Dr. Gee twice and interim presidents who usually spent a year or two in the job,” he said. “That kind of change in leadership makes the job as CCC director and hospital CEO challenging, because, understandably, each president has their own style of management and their own priorities.”

Drake has a lengthy medical background and served as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system.

Caligiuri has not responded to several requests for comment or interviews from The Lantern.