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Emeritus faculty continue to contribute

Scrutiny stems from recent questions about resources granted former hospital director

Diane Heldt

The Gazette

January 28, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

  IOWA CITY — Visiting doctors from Baltimore and Waterloo watched closely Friday as Dr. Ignacio Ponseti applied casts to the feet of a 3-week-old baby to treat clubfoot.

  Several doctors each month come from around the world to University Hospitals to study the clubfoot treatment with Ponseti. Patients come from all over to see him, too.

  Al and Ellen Krogmann of Manchester bring their 3-week-old daughter, Brooke, for treatment. Al Krogmann said Friday they feel lucky such a renowned expert is so close to home. ‘‘Our doctor in Manchester told us, ‘This guy is the best there is,’ ’’ Al Krogmann said.

  Ponseti, 92, technically is retired. But University Hospitals staff smile at that notion because Ponseti still sees patients three times a week.

  Ponseti is perhaps one of the best examples of a University of Iowa emeritus faculty member who continues to contribute to the university well past retirement.

  Of the nearly 650 UI faculty and staff with emeritus designations, about 110 continue to research, write papers or see patients in campus offices. Most with offices share space with other emeritus or adjunct faculty.

  At Iowa State University, about 135 of the nearly 670 emeritus faculty work in campus offices, mostly shared space. At the University of Northern Iowa, only about a dozen of the more than 300 emeritus faculty keep campus offices. Emeritus faculty on the three campuses also can get free parking permits.

  The state Board of Regents last week asked for a report from the UI, ISU and UNI about their policies regarding emeritus faculty after news reports focused on John Colloton, director emeritus of University Hospitals, who has a hospital office and a secretary. Emeritus faculty who remain active say staying involved is satisfying. UI officials and several regents say their contributions are immeasurable.

  ‘‘It’s very rewarding for me to contribute,’’ said Ponseti, who still walks to work when the weather is nice. ‘‘I have so much experience and so many doctors want to come and learn it. If I’m healthy, I really don’t feel like I should stop working.’’

 Work ethic appreciated

  Dr. Edgar Folk, 92, has been retired for more than 20 years. But the professor emeritus of physiology still has a UI office and laboratory in the Bowen Science Building. He said he ‘‘tries to keep it to 40 hours a week’’ with writing and research. He’s writing a book about physiology and World War II, among other projects.

  ‘‘ There are always more papers to be written,’’ Folk said. ‘‘I feel a responsibility to my university and all the people who helped me out.’’

  That work ethic among retired professors is not particularly unusual, Folk said.

  UI Interim President Gary Fethke said renowned physicist James Van Allen, who died in August at the age of 91, was a prime example. Van Allen went to his office in the UI building that bears his name almost every day after retiring from active teaching in 1985. He edited two papers in the intensive care unit in the weeks before his death.

  ‘‘We’re getting a lot more back than we’re providing — there’s no question about that,’’ Fethke said. ‘‘We have extremely talented people who can contribute to the betterment of the university. This is something we should be very proud of. We shouldn’t be looking at it suspiciously.’

 Controversy over Colloton

  Colloton’s emeritus status drew attention after UI officials refused to release his e-mail or other correspondence concerning the hospitals, sought in Freedom of Information requests by several newspapers that include The Gazette.

  UI officials argued in their refusal that Colloton no longer conducts official university business. But he has a UI office, phone number and email account, and his secretary is paid $58,447. Colloton was director of University Hospitals from 1958 to 2000 and serves on the Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield board of directors.

  Fethke said last week that Colloton has been a wonderful consultive colleague. ‘‘He’s someone I can learn something from every time I talk to him,’’ Fethke said.

  Regents Amir Arbisser of Davenport and Bob Downer of Iowa City have asked how universities distribute the free parking and office space that Colloton and other retired UI professors and officials receive. Both said they were not criticizing Colloton and that they admire what he has accomplished for the UI. But Des Moines businessman Marvin Pomerantz, a former regents president and a UI donor, chastised Arbisser and Downer in a letter dated Jan. 24 for comments they made about Colloton’s emeritus status in a newspaper article.

  The letter, obtained by The Gazette, says, ‘‘You either have a fundamental void in your knowledge regarding the emeritus program and John’s participation in it after making enormous contributions to the university and state as a whole over a span of four decades, or you have an overwhelming bias that stands in the way of clear thinking.’’ The letter goes on to say: ‘‘If either or both of you, at the end of your careers, have contributed to our Iowa society even a small fraction of what John Colloton has contributed, you will have done well. Until then, you ought to be applauding him in retirement, not knocking him!’’

  Arbisser said his concern stems from the location of Colloton’s office in University Hospitals while Colloton is a board member at Wellmark, a company with which the UI contracts. He also noted, regarding the letter, that Pomerantz and Colloton are friends.

  ‘‘To have him (Colloton) communicate on UI stationary and with UI personnel seems a little bit murky to me,’’ Arbisser said. ‘‘But I think the man’s accomplishments are extraordinary and absolutely to be appreciated.’’ Downer said Pomerantz misread his comments. He said he did not say Colloton is not entitled to an office.

  ‘‘What I did say is that I think there should be an evaluation of the extent to which these facilities are used, just as we evaluate everything else,’’ Downer said. ‘‘My only interest is that the universities have some policy on these things. Beyond that, I have no intention at all in telling the University of Iowa what that policy should or should not be, unless there appears to be some blatant abuse of it, which I have no cause to believe exists.’’

  Downer added that many emeritus faculty and staff provide an incredible service. ‘‘These are the last people I would ever want to convey an impression that their service is not recognized and appreciated,’’ he said.