Two members of the board that governs the state-supported universities in Ames, Cedar Falls and Iowa City have resigned after a dispute between the state’s largest insurance company and the University of Iowa. Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield chairman and C-E-O John Forsyth was elected president of the Board of Regents this fall, but he submitted a five-page resignation letter on Friday. Governor Tom Vilsack says the state’s top lawyer issued some advice that prompted Forsyth to resign. The Attorney General told Forsythe he couldn’t participate in any policymaking that involved the U of I hospitals because Wellmark might at some point enter into negotiations with the University to renew its contract.
“John felt that was just an untenable position, and he could not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility and I respect him enormously for that and respect enormously the job he has done as president (of the Board of Regents),” Vilsack says. “He has started the transformation process and I can assure you and I can guarantee you it’s going to continue.”
Iowa U-A-W president Dave Neil, another member of the Board of Regents, has resigned, too, because he sits on Wellmark’s board of directors. Vilsack is appointing Michael Gartner to Neil’s seat on the board. Gartner, the president of the Iowa Cubs, former managing editor of the Des Moines Register, and former president of N-B-C News, has been the leader of the board that handed out millions of state grants to cities through the Vision Iowa program.
“I do not have the replacement for John Forsythe today at this time because I am waiting for an individual I have communicated to to tell me whether or not he is interested,” Vilsack says. If that person says ‘yes,’ Vilsack may reveal his choice later today.
“I can assure you that the individual that we name to replace John Forsyth will be every bit as much involved as transformation (of the universities) and knowledgeable about that process than John Forsyth was,” Vilsack says.
House Speaker Christopher Rants, a republican from Sioux City, says he’s concerned by Forsyth’s resignation. “I’m disappointed. I’m sorry to see John Forsyth leave. I think he was really providing (the universities) some direction at a time when they really need it,” Rants says.
“My concern is are they able to continue this transition. I mean, much of the discussion of about changing the way the Regents deliver services and how they’re trying to eliminate duplication was all driven by John Forsyth.”
Neil of La Porte City says he resigned his seat on the board in part due to the resignation of Forsyth. Neil says under Forsyth’s leadership they’d started the transformation process, and with his term set to end in three months, he felt it was important to give the governor the flxibility to put people on the board who were going to ensure the transformational process. Neil was appointed to the board in 1999, and says he’s pleased with the work the board has done.
He says he feels real good about what they were able to accomplish, particularily the transformation process. He says if we’re going to continue to have affordable education, the transformation process must continue. Neil says the transformation process is the key to the future of the three state-supported universities.
He says it’s “very, very, important” that the universities transform themselves into a “more focused and leaner operation than they have been.” Neil says it will take a lot of leadership to see that transformation completed.