Students protest health insurance company CEO

Students protest a speaker in front the of AMU on Tuesday.
Students protest a speaker in front the of AMU on Tuesday.

Marquette University hosted its 10th Annual Business Leaders’ Forum Luncheon Tuesday featuring keynote speaker and health insurance company Chief Executive Officer Angela Braly. The event attracted a group of protesters from JUSTICE, a Marquette student organization that assembled on Wisconsin Avenue and in Westowne Mall.

The protesters questioned the university’s decision to host Braly as a business role model consistent with Marquette’s values, according to a JUSTICE press release.

Braly is CEO of Wellpoint, Inc., a health insurance provider that insures one in nine people in the United States, according to the company’s Web site.

She spoke to more than 400 current and former Marquette students, faculty and local business leaders about leadership and Wellpoint’s practices, some of which JUSTICE members said are in conflict with Marquette’s Jesuit values.

“The values stress creating leaders in service of those in need,” said JUSTICE President Emma Cotter, a College of Arts & Sciences senior.

In handouts given to passers-by outside the Alumni Memorial Union, JUSTICE alleged that Wellpoint profits from “actively denying insurance to many sick and poor people” and by “discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.”

“We believe that for them, health care is for profit,” said Billy Malloy, a College of Nursing senior and one of the protesters.

JUSTICE (Jesuit University Students Together in Concerned Empowerment) members said they were not only protesting based on their own beliefs, but for the benefit of the entire Marquette community.

“Because of Wellpoint’s position on health care reform and the company’s many instances of corrupt and debilitating practices, we did not feel that Ms. Braly was an appropriate candidate to represent the type of leader Marquette should be holding up as an example to its students,” Cotter said.

JUSTICE participants, along with members of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee-based social justice organization Act Everywhere and local union-based Industrial Workers of the World, obtained numerous signatures from students who disagreed with the selection of Braly as keynote speaker. Braly was chosen by University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild.

Linda Salchenberger, dean of the College of Business Administration, introduced Braly to the forum.

“Good leaders are constantly learning,” Salchenberger said. “We at Marquette are committed to developing leaders that evolve through advice, admiration, reading and coaching.”

Braly said Wellpoint’s 3,000 doctors and nurses are dedicated to providing health care at the highest quality and best price. She spoke of the role of women in the corporation, stating that “78 percent of associates, 58 percent of managers and 35 percent of the board of directors are all women.”

Braly also focused on the process of leading in her address.

“Leadership is about the people. You have to pick the right ones and you have to know yourself,” Braly said. “Don’t mistake that you will be plucked out and put on top. You have to get pushed up by those supporting you. Never forget that.”

Braly responded to one protester at the address who questioned Wellpoint’s position and practices.

“We have to be disciplinarians,” she said. “We can be made a target, but we have to focus on what we believe is right and take the necessary measures to ensure that it gets done.”

Some students said her words on leadership informed and provided a source of understanding for Marquette’s Centennial Celebration of Women.

“This was a great opportunity to meet and talk with those who are experienced in the field I study,” said Henry Twomey, a College of Business Administration freshman. “It makes the idea of the ‘100 Years of Women’ seem more than just words on a banner.”