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Orange County

Two Universities End Plans for Merger

March 19, 2004|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

After more than a year of discussion, Chapman University in Orange and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona have scrapped plans for an ambitious merger.

Officials at both universities said they were unable to resolve major differences over power-sharing and naming the new institution.

Western President Philip Pumerantz had suggested "Chapman Western University," but his Chapman counterpart, James L. Doti, had insisted from the outset that the combined school retain Chapman's name.

"From the beginning I told my students and faculty that the deal breaker might be the name issue," Doti said. "We have created too much brand-name capital and reputation with the name Chapman."

The two sides also were unable to agree on shared control of the new university.

Western trustees balked at a tentative plan for Doti to become chief executive and all 42 Chapman trustees to remain on the new board, while Western would have had only 11 positions.

"We wanted something closer to parity," Pumerantz said.

The two schools eagerly announced the merger proposal in February 2003. Both formed task forces to investigate how best to combine, but ultimately both presidents said melding the two academic cultures posed too many problems."I suppose we might have worked it out if we had kept trying," he said, "but we both reached a point where we felt that it was best to stop."

A successful merger would have blended two distinctly different campuses. Chapman enrolls 3,500 students in its undergraduate, liberal arts college, while 1,350 more pursue graduate degrees in law, business, film and other fields. The nonprofit Western has 1,500 students studying in such medical fields as nursing, pharmacy and physical therapy.

Doti said he was attracted to the merger to bring Western's nationally accredited health science programs under Chapman's control at a time when the field is rapidly growing.

A link to Chapman, Pumerantz said, would have strengthened the financial foundation for the graduate university. A deal also would have readily funneled Chapman graduates into Western's programs.

Both presidents said their long-running friendship remains strong despite the failed merger. They added that their institutions would rebound easily.

"Am I disappointed? In some ways yes, in some ways no," Doti said. "It would have meant a lot of advantages ... but it would have been a real struggle."

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