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Kessler's representatives, Shivers and Yamamoto, became so exasperated that for a time they stopped attending the group's sessions. Asked about the findings, Washington said that expense projections weren't produced because a "majority" of the group "could not accept the Kessler [expense] assumptions."
Even before the group packed it in last spring, Kessler sought permission from the chancellor to hire outside accountants to get to the bottom of the mess. Bishop refused, records show. (Months later, the university authorized a review by the accounting firm KPMG, but its report, released in February after Kessler's departure — and which UCSF initially refused to make public — was hardly a ringing endorsement of the university's position. Among other things, the firm's auditors acknowledged that they were unable to reconcile financial statements from the dean's office with the university's general ledger, or list of expenses, and concluded that UCSF needed to improve its reporting methods.)
Then, last year, with the dean and the chancellor privately at loggerheads, Kessler instigated a series of events that may have hastened his departure.
In April 2007, he fired off an e-mail to a university lawyer, accusing the UC auditor of "obfuscation or worse." He then convened a meeting of medical-school chairs and senior school leaders to lay bare the financial condition of the dean's office. Although Kessler declines to discuss it, citing confidentiality, associates say he also alerted two members of the UC Board of Regents, including its influential chairman, Richard Blum.
Kessler provided Blum (who is married to Senator Dianne Feinstein) with spreadsheets and other documents, says one university source who insisted on anonymity. After subordinates at Blum Capital Partners, the investment firm he heads, reviewed the documents, Blum "appeared to be in Kessler's corner," the source says. (Blum declined comment through a spokesman.)
But there was no one in Kessler's corner when he arrived to meet with Bishop in late June. To his surprise, the chancellor handed him a letter asking for his resignation by year's end. "I was stunned," recalls Kessler, who says he had expected that he might receive an apology from Bishop for the way the university had handled the dispute.
Bishop did apologize — a week later. "In retrospect, I can see how these presentations might have misled you and influenced your decision to accept the offer from UCSF," he wrote via e-mail. "I regret this circumstance and apologize on behalf of the university."
Despite Kessler's refusal to quit, his relations with Bishop continued to be cordial and collegial, those who know the men say. They met often to discuss medical school business, with no further mention of the resignation request, Kessler says.
Even at the last such meeting three days before Kessler was ousted, there was no tension between them and no hint of what was to come. "Things were going swimmingly with the medical school," one UCSF insider says. "In his heart of hearts, David was convinced that everything was going to be okay."
Anyone who thought Kessler might disappear quietly may not have paid attention to his résumé. As head of the FDA from 1990 to 1997, he was the longest-serving and arguably the most embattled commissioner the federal agency has ever seen.
Best known for taking on Big Tobacco, Kessler constantly irritated conservative members of Congress in his zeal to protect consumers from tainted food and dangerous drugs. In an early act, he authorized the U.S. Attorney's office in Minnesota to seize a large quantity of Citrus Hill Fresh Choice orange juice after concluding that parent company Procter & Gamble's use of the term "fresh" was false and misleading. The company changed the product's label.
Such actions earned Kessler widespread admiration as well as scorn. House Speaker Newt Gingrich called him a "bully and a thug" and the "worst appointment ever."
Kessler's move to rein in the tobacco companies, which began shortly after he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and picked up steam after he was held over in the Bill Clinton administration, was long and combative. Although the U.S. Supreme Court voted five to four to thwart regulation of tobacco as a drug in 2000, Kessler's campaign helped bring cigarette manufacturers to heel and set the stage for billions of dollars in tobacco settlements.
"The joke at FDA was that David was renting because he thought he could be fired at any moment," says Washington, D.C. attorney Bill Schultz, a top policy aide to Kessler at the agency. "It's not in his nature to walk away from something, especially if he thinks there's wrongdoing."
His colleagues describe Kessler as private, intensely focused, and extraordinarily free of ego for someone whose pedigree includes having run a large government agency.
Yet his management style didn't suit everyone. "David can be in the middle of a conversation and hear something that he thinks is brilliant, and will say, 'Hold that thought,' and come down the hallway to your office and say, 'Can you come with me for a minute? I want you to hear this idea so-and-so has,'" says one faculty member who worked closely with Kessler. "Some people find that endearing; others are put off by it."