The University of Iowa is considering naming its College of Public Health after the Wellmark Foundation, the charitable arm of Iowa's largest health insurance company, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, in exchange for a $15 million gift from the foundation.
Part of the proposed $15 million gift would supplement $20.7 million in state money being put toward a new $44.7 million building to house the public health college. The rest would provide endowed professorships and scholarships at the college.
But the Wellmark deal, if approved, would make the U of I the only public university in the state - and one of few in the country - to give a major academic unit a corporate name.
The Board of Regents would make the final decision on whether to rename the College of Public Health.
The faculty of the college overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday that expresses appreciation for Wellmark's offer but says the faculty does not want the college named after Wellmark. 'We did not think being named after an insurance company was in our best interest,' said James Merchant, the U of I's dean of public health.
Professors who attended a faculty meeting last week voiced concerns about whether the Wellmark name would be appear to be a conflict of interest for a college that researches health-related issues, Fuortes said.
As best as I can tell, Wellmark Inc, is a for-profit Blue Cross/ Blue Shield licensed insurance company, albeit a mutual company that is supposed to be owned by the policy holders.
The Wellmark School of Public Health: it has a certain hollow ring to it, doesn't it?
It does seem that naming a school of public health for a for-profit health insurance corporation makes the institutional conflict of interest a bit more in your face. Whether it is more important than, say, having the university president sit on a for-profit health insurance company's board of directors (e.g., see this post), is open to question. But give the majority of University of Iowa faculty extra credit for recognizing the problem that a Wellmark School of Public Health would create.
And give the University of Iowa administration special points off for devising a new and very public sort of institutional conflict of interest affecting health care.
ADDENDUM (9 July, 2007): Wellmark Foundation just withdrew the offer, citing lack of "unwavering support from both the College and University administrative leadership," according to the Des Moines Register.