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Regent says Pomerantz out of line in calling for dean’s ouster

A member of the Iowa Board of Regents accused Des
Moines businessman Marvin Pomerantz of trying to bully
incoming University of Iowa
President Sally Mason.

Pomerantz, a former regent and a large donor to the University
of Iowa, called on Mason to fire
the dean of Iowa’s College
of Public Health after a naming
controversy with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance company.

David Miles, the Regents President Pro Tempore, said Pomerantz
is out of line.

“I really think it is an improper attempt to dictate
internal personnel decisions at the regents institutions,” Miles said.
“He is attempting to bully our incoming president by threatening the loss
of significant financial support if his demands are not met quickly.”

Pomerantz called James Merchant, the dean of the College
of Public Health, an embarrassment
after the college’s faculty rejected a $15 million gift in return for naming
the school the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield College of Public Health.

The faculty vote initially led Wellmark to withdraw the
offer, but gift discussions resumed this week.

Pomerantz said Mason should pay off Merchant to get rid of
him. Merchant has been dean since the college was founded in 1999 and is set to
retire after next year. He was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Miles, referring to Pomerantz, said: “I trust the board
will reject this interference. … I think it is perfectly appropriate for
Pomerantz to disagree vigorously. I think it is inappropriate to step across
the line and demand the president fire the dean.”

Miles also called for the Board of Regents to examine its
naming policy at its September meeting to decide whether corporate naming
should be allowed.

“The current policy would allow naming of a college
after a commercial product,” he said.

In an e-mail to fellow regents, Miles wrote: “At least
from what I have been able to find, it appears that naming a college after a
corporate donor would be a first in higher education.”

Regent President Michael Gartner did not immediately return
messages. Other regents said that Pomerantz is free to speak his mind, and that
Merchant’s job is safe.

“Terminating someone’s employment is a very serious
matter, and I would approach that skeptically,” Regent Bonnie Campbell
said. “(Pomerantz) can say whatever he wants; we have a First Amendment.
Obviously, it’s a strong sentiment, but I don’t know on what basis (Merchant)
would be terminated.”

Regent Robert Downer said: “I am not aware of any basis
at this point for calling for Dean Merchant’s resignation.”

Pomerantz, a former member of the Wellmark board of
directors, and former University of Iowa
Hospitals Director John Colloton, a Wellmark
director, approached the Wellmark board for the U of I donation, although the
offer came from the Wellmark Foundation, a charitable organization created by

They were both serving on the College
of Public Health’s capital
campaign, although Pomerantz has since resigned.

Wellmark Chief Executive John Forsyth, a former regents
president, resigned from the state board in 2005 in the middle of a contentious
contract dispute between University of Iowa Hospitals and Wellmark.

While the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield College of
Public Health appears to be off the table, the faculty said they were open to
other names, such as Wellmark, Wellmark Foundation or being named for John and
Mary Ann Colloton.

Information from: Iowa
City Press-Citizen,

– Associated Press

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