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Thomas Jefferson University president who liked controversial tweets resigns

Mark Tykocinski will remain a full professor, but has stepped down as president and interim medical school dean.

Former Thomas Jefferson University President Mark L. Tykocinski.
Former Thomas Jefferson University President Mark L. Tykocinski.Read moreCourtesy of Thomas Jefferson University

Thomas Jefferson University President Mark Tykocinski, who came under fire less than three months ago for liking controversial tweets about COVID-19 vaccines and gender reassignment surgery for children on his official presidential Twitter account, resigned from his leadership position this week after only a year in the job, the school announced.

In an email to the university community Thursday, Joseph G. Cacchione, Jefferson’s CEO, said that Tykocinski is exiting the leadership role “to focus on his research and clinical translation efforts” but would remain a full professor. He also will no longer serve as interim dean of Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College. The email also noted that the university’s searches for a new provost and medical school dean were nearing completion.

Susan Aldridge, a senior executive higher education consultant who is a member of the board of trustees, became interim president on Wednesday, the school said in a statement. She recently retired from Drexel University, where she had been senior vice president for online learning and president of Drexel University Online. Steven Herrine, vice dean of undergraduate medical education, will become interim medical school dean, the school said.

» READ MORE: Thomas Jefferson president ‘should have known better,’ says the CEO in a note to the system’s community

There was no mention of Tykocinski’s Twitter activity in Cacchione’s announcement about the leadership change.

Several employees and students who had expressed concern about the president’s tweet likes said Friday they were relieved and pleased that the university’s leadership would be changing.

“It was one of the outcomes that we wanted,” said a medical school student who asked for anonymity, fearing retribution.

But the student said Jefferson still must work harder to address concerns about diversity on campus.

“The deans and faculty have been pretty receptive to what we suggested,” the student said. “We are optimistic.”

Tykocinski, 70, a Yale-educated molecular immunologist and academic leader who has been at Jefferson for nearly 15 years, was elevated from provost to president last July.

In April, some Jefferson employees who asked for anonymity because they feared retribution approached The Inquirer with concerns about Tykocinski’s social media activity, given that it was on an account that clearly identified him as Jefferson’s president and dean of the medical college.

“Two years after their introduction, the mRNAs Covid vaccines have proven to be what we all should have expected,” said a Dec. 11 tweet that Tykocinski liked. “Another in a long line of overhyped, rushed, profit-driven Big Pharma flops with weak long-term efficacy and a lousy side effect profile. ...”

» READ MORE: Thomas Jefferson president has ‘liked’ tweets critical of COVID-19 vaccines, among other controversial topics

Referring to a case that’s become a cause célèbre for attacks on gender reassignment surgery for children, Tykocinski also liked a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that said: “Doctors lied and coerced a 13-year-old into an irreversible ‘gender affirming medical procedure.’ Now she is fighting back and suing them. Donate here to support the lawsuit and help stop child mutilation.”

The university president also liked a tweet that linked to a letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Diversity Czars Always Need to Find New Oppression.”

At the time, he told The Inquirer in an email that he “liked” tweets to bookmark them, “to learn more about the subject matter or the particular viewpoint,” and that he did not endorse the tweets or the person tweeting those thoughts.

He later apologized to the Jefferson community and deleted about half his likes.

Cacchione said then that he was “disappointed” in the president’s “careless use” of his Twitter account.

» READ MORE: Thomas Jefferson medical students say president’s Twitter activity signifies a larger diversity problem

“At his level, he is held to a higher standard and should have known better,” Cacchione wrote to Jefferson faculty, employees, and students at the time.

About a half dozen organizations made up of medical students from LGBTQ and underrepresented racial groups at Jefferson subsequently called on the administration to take specific steps to improve diversity efforts and publicly hold the president accountable for his social media activity, which they saw as emblematic of a larger problem at the school.

They called Tykocinski’s explanation for his social media activity — that he was “liking” controversial tweets in order to bookmark them for later learning — “difficult to comprehend.”

Tykocinski’s “actions have harmed students’ trust in the institution’s commitment to its mission,” they wrote.

“We take the concerns of our students seriously,” Bernard Lopez, the medical college’s senior associate dean for diversity and community engagement and associate provost for diversity and inclusion, said in May. “Conversations between university leadership and the student groups who have reached out are ongoing as we work to address their concerns.”

An email by the Medical Executive Committee, which represents the university’s medical staff, called the social media posts “unacceptable.”

“Responsible engagement in social media is essential, and must reflect our commitment to Jefferson’s values, particularly when representing TJUH,” said the email, obtained by The Inquirer.

In a statement, the university said that Tykocinski’s cancer immunotherapy research had reached “a pivotal stage,” in explaining the change in leadership.

The university called him a “renowned biomedical innovator” who “has pioneered unique immunotherapeutic strategies that invoke engineered proteins and cells.”

“We appreciate Dr. Tykocinski’s years of transformational service to Jefferson and wish him an abundance of success in his scientific and other endeavors given their importance to humanity,” the school said.

His Twitter account still lists him as president and dean.