Wellmark Withdraws $15 Million Pledge From University of Iowa

The Wellmark Foundation has withdrawn its $15 million pledge to the University of Iowa College of Public Health after the faculty and administration rejected a plan to rename the college after Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Des Moines Register reports.

The public health faculty, including dean James Merchant, rejected the proposal to rename the college after the Des Moines-based insurance company because of fears the move could hurt research funding, which comprises 80 percent of the college's budget, and be viewed by some as an attempt by Wellmark to gain market share by linking its name with the university's. Had the gift been approved, it would have made the University of Iowa one of only a few institutions of higher education in the country to name a major academic unit after a corporation.

Although members of the college's capital campaign committee had initially approached Wellmark about the gift and naming opportunity, Merchant cautioned the company's CEO, John Forsyth, against that idea, suggesting instead it consider using the foundation's name or that of John Colloton, a longtime director of UI Hospitals and a former Wellmark board member. Wellmark rejected those options. "Unless and until there is unwavering support from both the college and university administrative leadership for a major gift as originally solicited by the college's capital campaign committee leadership, our gift will remain withdrawn," Forsyth wrote in a letter to university officials.

Faculty expressed hope that the decision would not damage the university's relationship with the company, which has worked with the college on numerous public health initiatives and funds an endowed professorship, educational outreach, student grants, and various public health projects. Wellmark officials did not rule out future gifts, and Merchant said he hopes the door is not shut. "Could there be a change of heart? Could there be other forms or other gifts? Absolutely," he said. "We've enjoyed a very cordial relationship with Wellmark."

Erin Jordan. "Rebuffed, Wellmark Withdraws Gift to U of I." Des Moines Register 07/10/2007.