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Letters to the Editor

September 2004

Fat Chance

Impossible Dream Is Reality

Along with my dad and wife, Bonnie Dunbar is among the people whom I most truly admire [“Sunnyside Up,” June 2004]. For years, I felt Bonnie's career sounded like an item suitable for Paul Harvey's “The Rest of the Story,” so here's my version, which I've shared with many others.

In February 1968, I was an anonymous and very naïve freshman commuting from my parents' home in Burien. I had chosen to participate in the Air Force ROTC program.

I attended what I recall was a one-credit class once a week in the old wood frame building slightly southeast of where the Allen Library is today. By 1970, this building would become unsuitable for ROTC because of security concerns, and the program was relocated to Clark Hall.

The Angel Flight program in which Bonnie participated, as many of your readers may remember, was actually an auxiliary that supported Air Force ROTC. As sexist as it may seem today, the Air Force banned women from participating in ROTC. If a young woman was interested in the Air Force and aerospace, then Angel Flight was one way for her to become involved.

Even as a freshman, Bonnie was definitely a shining light around the cadet offices. Because she was so well known, I had originally assumed she was much older than me. I later learned we were both freshmen.

One afternoon, as I was checking my mailbox, Bonnie and several upper classmen were having a rather frank discussion about how she should be spending more time with them on a social basis. Bonnie suggested she had a wide range of interests.

Furthermore, she emphatically stated, much to my disbelieving ears, “I'm going to be an astronaut.” Sure, I thought, the Air Force won't even let you into ROTC.

Needless to say, I was thrilled that she turned what seemed to me an impossible dream into an unbelievable reality. I'm delighted that the University and the alumni association have selected her as the 2004 Alumna Summa Laude Dignata. I can think of no better choice.

Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Ellis, (Ret.), '72, '84
Seattle

Damaging to the University

I read with more sadness and great disappointment the University announcement in the media about the medical school frauds against the federal government [“UW Pays Record $35 Million to Settle Government Billing Fraud Claims,” June 2004]. I had earlier read the quoted and constantly repeated statements of [Medical School] Dean Paul Ramsey that, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he insisted that … the admitted tens of millions of dollars of overcharges were “unintentional.”

The overwhelming evidence to the contrary, occurring during Dean Ramsey's leadership, consists, at the very least, of: (1) the two guilty pleas of UW doctors to crimes involving fraudulent charges, (2) the payment of a $35 million fine by UW to settle fraud charges claimed of about $50 million over a period of many years, (3) the firing by UW of the two doctors convicted of these crimes, (4) the repeated communications of these frauds, beginning many years ago, by UW employees—with direct knowledge of these frauds—to the medical school leadership with no appropriate responses or action of any kind by this leadership, and (5) the payment of $25 million by UW to its own attorneys to defend the fraud charges.

In spite of these facts, the announcement of a new investigation expressly states that this investigation will not include any review of the conduct of Dean Ramsey, the medical school's leader during the … period of these frauds; and, to add insult to injury, several regents were quoted as expressing their “full confidence” in Ramsey.

This is a horrible and totally inadequate position. Such response is damaging to the University, its students and alumni, its faculty and employees, and, most of all to the citizens of the state of Washington. You have set a deplorable example of ethical leadership to us all.

Please, examine your consciences and do what is necessary to deal rightly and appropriately with a problem you cannot ignore. Otherwise, how can anyone trust that their treatment by a UW doctor is in the hands of an ethical person—ethics is not compartmentalized–or that our medical school is teaching our future doctors—by both their example and their words—what ethical behavior is and that they should behave ethically in their practices and lives?

Bert L. Metzger, Jr.
Seattle

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from a guest commentary by UW Board of Regents President Gerald Grinstein and UW Medicine Board Chair Dennis Okamoto printed in the Seattle Times.

“We believe the loss of Dr. Ramsey's leadership would be devastating to the future of UW Medicine and our community. The President of the University, with our full involvement, evaluates Ramsey's performance. This has occurred throughout his seven-year tenure as vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and will continue in the future.

“His job is extraordinarily difficult, complex and demanding. It includes the administration of a medical school for five states, the largest biomedical research program among all public universities, and a patient-care system that manages 20 percent of the care delivered in King County and provides the most important element of the health-care safety net for the uninsured and critically ill. Ramsey has led this organization with skill and integrity, advancing the excellence of UW Medicine in each of these areas.

“We have been involved closely in the federal investigation of billing practices of UW Medicine. Ramsey has kept us fully informed as the case has unfolded and has consulted with us on every key decision, including those surrounding the guilty pleas of Drs. H. Richard Winn and William Couser and the settlement of the civil case. He has never attempted to minimize the need for reforming UW Medicine's compliance systems. Quite the reverse, he is aggressively leading changes that place UW Medicine in the forefront of assuring patients of the accuracy of their billing.

“There were many difficult decisions to be made during the course of the investigation. Some of these decisions were painful for Ramsey, personally and professionally. From the outset, he acknowledged the problems and focused on improving the business and compliance systems to avoid a recurrence of those problems.

“Throughout this very difficult time, Ramsey has played a pivotal role in enhancing the teaching, research and patient-care missions of UW Medicine. He also led the effort to request that the regents create the UW Medicine Board, which provides increased oversight of his leadership and the organization by a public board. Ramsey, his management team and the UW Medicine Board are committed to seeing that UW Medicine's business practices, including its values and ethics, mirror its excellence in patient care, teaching and research.”

Presidential Reservations

From among the many wonderful articles that I have read in Columns, I felt the piece on Mark Emmert and DeLaine Emmert was one of the best that I have ever read [“The Homecoming,” June 2004]. I greatly appreciated the scope of the article and I now feel that I am starting to have some concept of the Emmerts and of the many strengths they will bring to UW. The range of the article, in terms of President Emmert's personal, academic and administrative background, was very enlightening. Here in American Indian studies we are especially excited to learn that the in-coming “Prez” has lived on a “rez,” and we are happy about his insights. We are even more excited about meeting the Emmerts and welcoming them back to Washington.

Tom Grayson Colonnese
Director
UW American Indian Studies Program

Editor's Note: UW President Mark Emmert lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming for 18 months in the mid-1970s.

The Truth Is All Wet

I agree with Saul D. Feldman, who thanked you in his letter in the June 2004 Columns for including the news of UW, warts and all. I think the difference between a serious publication and an advertisement is that the former includes the warts. Several years ago you published a photo of the Suzzallo Library revealing a UW wart that probably gave every reader a good chuckle. The photo was taken in a driving rain.

Don Mack, '48
Truror, Mass.

Techie Touted

I was so pleased to find Alan Weldin in the listings of the UW Distinguished Staff Awards [“Class of Distinction,” June 2004]. The official recognition is a wonderful affirmation of what generations of drama school students already know.

Alan is one of the school's finest resources. A committed and patient teacher, Alan is, more importantly, a fine and caring advisor to students in both undergraduate and graduate programs. He is a superb craftsman and an ingenious technical director (the term “Bungee Cord Tech” was coined amongst us when he used titanium sheet stock, Teflon blocks and bungee cords to solve one particular logistics problem). The scene shop was a welcoming place with Alan, Alex Danilchik (another amazing resource) and the unceasingly patient Malcolm Brown in residence.

I am one of the many, many students who has gone through the UW drama school scene shop. Our graduate class of about a dozen was all from “away,” and we spent a fair amount of social time together besides hundreds of hours in the shop, rehearsals and classes. Alan soon became a friend as well as an instructor. We had famous Thanksgiving potluck dinners (the first in my tiny basement apartment, the next two at Alan's home). We celebrated birthdays (with zebra brownies, lemon bars or mix-in ice cream on the Ave), or created occasions to celebrate if things seemed to get too serious. We went on local field trips and did “reports” at the Pub, complete with musical accompaniment. Show production was as integral a part of our graduate school experience as classwork, and the difference between “faculty” and “staff” makes little difference in my mind when I reflect upon what I learned from whom. Alan enhanced my UW experience in countless ways in my three years there. I will always value the gift of his friendship as well as the excellence of his teaching.

Anna Schlobohm de Cruder,'88
Altadena, Calif.

Making the UW a Special Place

In April, Burke Museum Affiliate Curator of Paleobotany Wes Wehr passed away. I was one of the many readers who enjoyed his book The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West. When he spoke to the Museum of History and Industry's book club about the book, the stories continued. He was one of the smartest, wittiest and nicest people I had met. His next book, The Accidental Collector: Art, Fossils, Friendships, was published in May. I am sure that it will be another success.

When I took the UW museum studies certificate program, I sought Wes out. The classes were held at the Burke Museum so I was able to see him often. He encouraged my interest in local history, art, literature and museums. I doubt that Wes ever found me as witty as Mark Tobey, but I always enjoyed the conversations we had at the Burke or the Ugly Mug Cafe. It is people like Wes that make the University of Washington such a special place for me.

Kirk Stensvig, '95, '97
Seattle

Corrections

In the June 2004 Columns list of graduate and professional programs ranked by U.S. News and World Report, we inadvertently left off the ranking for the School of Public Health and Community Medicine. It was fourth in the nation. We were also published the wrong date when describing the late Political Science Professor James Townsend's UW career. He joined the faculty in 1968.

Also, all but two of the photos of UW award-winners in the June 2004 article “Class of Distinction” were taken by University Photographer Kathy Sauber. The photo of Britt Yamamoto on page 36 was provided courtesy of Britt Yamamoto, and the photo of James Clowes, also on page 36, was provided by the family of the late James Clowes.

We usually receive more letters than we have room to print. To read these extra letters, please visit our Web site at www.washington.edu/alumni/columns.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited due to lack of space. Please include a daytime phone number and send all correspondence to: Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105. You may send e-mail to columns@u.washington.edu or send a fax to 206-685-0611.

We usually receive more letters than we have room to print. To read these extra letters, please visit our Web site at http://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

SEND ALL CORRESPONDENCE TO:
columns@u.washington.edu
--or--
Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105
--or--
fax to (206) 685-0611