WesternU President Pumerantz to retire

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Founding president started health sciences university in 1977 with 36 students

Philip Pumerantz, PhD

The time has come for me to move to a new role, and in the process allow for an orderly transition and wise leadership succession for the University.

Philip Pumerantz, PhD, the founding and sole president of Western University of Health Sciences since its inception in 1977 as the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), has announced he will retire from the presidency effective September 8, 2015.

Pumerantz made the announcement in a letter to WesternU Board of Trustees Chair Richard Bond, DO. Bond holds the distinction of being COMP’s first graduate, as he was first in line at the College’s inaugural Commencement exercises in 1982.

“The time has come for me to move to a new role, and in the process allow for an orderly transition and wise leadership succession for the University,” Pumerantz’s letter to Bond read.

Pumerantz is the second-longest currently serving university president in the United States, having officially taken office on September 6, 1977 – the day after Labor Day. His tenure as a university president is currently exceeded only by Dr. Norman Francis of Xavier University (45 years).

Pumerantz’s retirement date also is the day after Labor Day.

“Having known the president for 37 years of his 38-year term, it is hard for me to imagine the University going on without him, as I’m sure it is for all of you,” Bond told WesternU board members in a message this morning. “But go on it must. We will have many opportunities to celebrate Dr. Pumerantz’s legacy. Our first order of business must be to establish a committee and a process for selecting our next president.”

In his letter, Pumerantz made a special point of mentioning his wife, Harriet, who was instrumental in helping him establish many of COMP’s, and later WesternU’s, organizations, processes and traditions, including the annual Convocation and Commencement ceremonies, the “Tribute to Caring” major fundraising dinner each November, the COMPlements group for families of the osteopathic college, and countless others.

“I'm indebted to my wife for her support when I suggested we take on this challenge,” Pumerantz wrote. “Together, we have devoted ourselves to COMP, and now Western University of Health Sciences, for 38 years.”

He also briefly reflected on the journey that brought him west nearly four decades ago, as California’s osteopathic medical community struggled to regain a foothold after more than a decade of being unable to license osteopathic physicians in the state. That privilege was restored by the state Assembly in 1974.

“I have many fond memories of the efforts of Drs. Ethan Allen and Don Dilworth and others to convince me to leave the American Osteopathic Association in Chicago and come west on an initiative that, to many people, was a fool’s errand: to start a school and restore osteopathic medical education in the state of California. That vision had many people shaking their heads.”

COMP’s first class of 36 students was enrolled in fall 1978, roughly one year after Pumerantz and his first employee – his secretary -- opened the doors to a small office on Second Street in Pomona, Calif., that was part of the largely abandoned Pomona Mall. Thirty-one members of that first class, including Bond, graduated four years later as Doctors of Osteopathy.

Over the years, class sizes became larger, mall buildings were acquired and renovated, new buildings were erected, and Second Street was closed at Gibbs Street and Towne Avenue so that a traffic-free east-west campus Esplanade could be built.

COMP was restructured into Western University of Health Sciences in 1996, and is composed of nine colleges:

  •     College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (founding college)
  •     College of Allied Health Professions
  •     College of Pharmacy
  •     College of Graduate Nursing
  •     College of Veterinary Medicine
  •     College of Dental Medicine
  •     College of Optometry
  •     College of Podiatry
  •     Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences

More than 3,900 students currently are enrolled, and the May 2014 University Commencement increased the number of alumni to more than 11,000 caring and compassionate health sciences professionals who practice across the country and around the world. WesternU, which covers 22 acres in downtown Pomona, also employs more than 1,200 staff and faculty, making it the fourth-largest employer in the Pomona Valley, behind only Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, and the Pomona Unified School District.

WesternU educates its students by instilling in them a humanistic philosophy championed by Dr. Pumerantz from the time he conceptualized the university: “The discipline of learning. The art of caring.” He also has created a unique environment that fosters innovation and collaboration.

WesternU was among the first schools in the nation to create what has become a highly regarded Internet-based advanced practice nursing and nurse practitioner program. The College of Pharmacy offers an innovative curriculum that emphasizes academic and experiential learning by operating on a unique block system. The Harris Family Center for Disability and Health Policy (CDHP) works to enhance health professions education and to improve access for people with disabilities to health, health education, and health care services.

The University also is home to Southern California's first and only College of Veterinary Medicine, which further distinguishes itself by utilizing the problem-based learning curriculum and consistently operating under a reverence-for-life philosophy.

WesternU is a national leader in interprofessional education (IPE) in the health sciences, putting students from all nine of the University’s disciplines together in the classroom, in small group venues, and in clinical experiences with patients. The goal is for WesternU graduates to demonstrate an understanding of other health professions and to provide and promote a team approach to patient care and health care management, leading to improved patient care.

The WesternU Patient Care Center, which opened in May 2010, receives more than 20,000 patient encounters each year. The state-of-the-art facility includes seven specialized centers – the Dental Center, Eye Care Center, Foot & Ankle Center, Medical Center, WesternU Pharmacy, Travel Health Center, and the Western Diabetes Institute – that allow students and faculty to work in a unique atmosphere that fosters collaboration between the different colleges.

WesternU has changed the lives of countless individuals and has done so largely because of the vision and commitment of its founding president. Dr. Pumerantz, not being one to rest on his laurels, and remaining continually cognizant of the world’s need for caring and competent health care professionals to serve an ever-growing population, steered the University through a new phase of significant growth from 2007 to 2012.

This expansion, identified by President Pumerantz and supported by the University’s Board of Trustees, included the addition of four new colleges -- Dental Medicine, Podiatric Medicine, Optometry and Biomedical Sciences. It also entailed more than $100 million in new construction, including a 180,000-square-foot Health Education Center; the Patient Care Center, the Banfield Veterinary Clinical Center, a Veterinary Pathology Center, and a seven-story, 600-space parking structure.

It also included the establishment of a Pacific Northwest campus for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. This branch of the college, located in Lebanon, Oregon, and known as COMP-Northwest, welcomed its first class of osteopathic medical students in 2011, and will graduate that class in June of this year.

Western University of Health Sciences has become what Steven Wartman, MD, PhD, president of the Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC), calls “one of the most comprehensive academic health science centers in the nation.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education named WesternU one of its “Great Colleges to Work For” in 2012, 2013, and 2014, with the 2014 recognition including addition to the Chronicle Honor Roll as an institution with five or more areas of employment excellence.

Dr. Pumerantz has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1995 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Connecticut, the 1995 Dale Dodson Award for national leadership from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, and the 2010 Distinguished Educator Award from the Boy Scouts of America. In 2011, he was selected to receive the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and in 2013 was given the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation’s Founders Award for Exceptional Accomplishment.

Prior to coming to California in 1977 with his wife and their three children, Dr. Pumerantz was a professor of education at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, co-founder of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Continuing Education, and director of education for the American Osteopathic Association. He is the proud holder of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in history and education, all from the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Pumerantz has co-authored four college textbooks in education and has had numerous articles published in professional journals. He is listed in WHO'S WHO in the East, WHO'S WHO in the West, WHO'S WHO in California, WHO'S WHO in America, the Directory of International Biography, and in Outstanding Educators.

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Western University of Health Sciences (http://www.westernu.edu), located in Pomona, Calif. and Lebanon, Ore., is an independent nonprofit health professions university, conferring degrees in biomedical sciences, dental medicine, health sciences, medical sciences, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, podiatric medicine and veterinary medicine. WesternU is home to the Patient Care Center, where the best in collaborative health care services is offered. The Chronicle of Higher Education named WesternU a Great College to Work For in 2012 and 2013.

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