A petition posted on an optometric Web site calls for the University of North Carolina to put the kibosh on the proposed optometry school on its Pembroke campus.

Optometrist Roger Filips, of Hartington, Neb., says he posted the petition on the Seniordoc.org site to have a grassroots outcry opposing any more colleges of optometry.

The petition states that:

Optometrists did not ask for a new optometry school.

A new school would only add to the projected overabundance of eye doctors.

An oversupply leads to decreased incomes and lower quality of life for current eye doctors.

In other words, the numbers of eye doctors should be reduced, not increased.

The current number of eye care providers is in excess even if all public eye care needs were currently being met, Dr. Filips says in the petition.

In defense of their plan for a new optometry school, administrators at the University of North Carolina Pembroke (UNCP) say that there is indeed a need for O.D.s in small rural towns, especially in the South.

A study of the number of optometrists serving the rural regions of North and South Carolina supports the need for an optometry school in North Carolina, and UNC Pembroke hopes its proposed school of optometry will benefit and serve the needs of the citizens within its region, says UNCPs Dr. Glen G. Burnette Jr., vice chancellor for university and community relations.

But, just because there is a need in a small town, [that] does not mean that an optometrist can make a living there, Dr. Filips says.

More to the point, the university sees this as a profit center, he writes in the petition. They are in the business of selling education and degrees.

University of North Carolina Pembroke, a public university, is far from a profit center, Dr. Burnette says. He cites U.S. News and World Reports Best Colleges 2005, which lists UNCP as number one in North Carolina, and 12th in all of the South, for universities that graduate students with the least amount of debt.

In addition, Dr. Burnette says, a college of optometry at UNCP could boost the numbers of minorities in the profession.

As the second most diverse university in the South, UNCP would help to balance the diversity statistics of minority optometrists in the U.S., he says.

He also points out that the school would graduate only 25 O.D.s a year, not 75, as mentioned in the petition.

At press time, the petition had 483 signatures, Dr. Filips says, with more coming in.

He plans to present the petition to the board of governors of the university system, to the UNCP administrators, to the relevant legislative committee and [to] anyone else who will be involved in deciding whether to proceed with the new optometry school.

To read the petition, go to www.seniordoc.org/nc.

Vol. No: 141:12Issue: 12/15/04