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Wellmark Withdraws $15 Million Grant to University of Iowa Over Naming Dispute

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has withdrawn its offer
of a $15 million donation to the University of Iowa after school faculty
rejected a proposal to rename its health college after Wellmark.

Wellmark, the state’s largest health insurance company, was
interested in stamping its name on the university’s College of Public Health.
However, faculty members overwhelmingly rebuffed the idea Thursday, saying that
naming the college after an insurance company could present a conflict of

The proposal would have made the university one of the first
in the nation to rename a major academic unit after a corporation.

“We are not prepared to allow the college to be named
after a commercial enterprise,” said James Merchant, public health dean.

Merchant said he received a letter Friday from Wellmark CEO
John Forsyth withdrawing the $15 million gift.

In the letter, Forsyth said the offer would remain withdrawn
“unless and until there is unwavering support” from the college and
university to pursue the money.

Merchant said the donation would have virtually met the
college’s fundraising goals and helped fund a new $40 million public health
building. The university still plans to start constructing the building this
fall, relying on $20.7 million from the state and $18 million from the school.

Gov. Chet Culver, college faculty and state regents raised
concerns last week about renaming the college if Wellmark donated money to the

Regent Robert Downer said there could be a possible conflict
of interest because of contractual relationships between the university and
Wellmark. Wellmark is a major payer to the University of Iowa Hospitals and
administers insurance plans for all the state’s public universities.

After faculty rejected Wellmark’s proposal, Merchant said he
hoped Wellmark may still consider donating if the company were allowed to
rename the college after someone of its choice. Merchant later said the Wellmark
Foundation did not approve of the idea.

“Could there be a change of heart? Could there be other
forms or other gifts? Absolutely,” Merchant said. “We’ve enjoyed a
very cordial relationship with Wellmark.”

– Associated Press

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