University News

Public health school nears completion

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2012

The creation of the new school of public health, expected to attract additional funding to the University, increase the program’s visibility and enhance the quality of students and faculty, is 95 percent complete, and the official approval process for the school is set to begin this spring.

Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy, is currently coordinating with Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 and Edward Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences, to determine “the organizational structure and where the school of public health sits within the broader University,” Wetle said.

“It’s now at the final stage where we have to make the final arrangements so that the campus committees that have to approve this can look at the plan and weigh in,” Schlissel said.

Schlissel will discuss the creation of the school with the Corporation this spring, whereupon the approval process will launch. The establishment of the school must be approved by the University faculty, the Biomedical Faculty Council and the Corporation. The proposal will most likely be presented to the Faculty Executive Committee in October, according to minutes from a Feb. 28 FEC meeting.

Wetle said she expects the proposal will be approved by the FEC this fall. “We’ve been working on this for a long time,” she said. Wetle has worked closely with the FEC throughout the process and has taken input from faculty from an array of departments.

The transformation of the public health department into a standalone school has been in the works since Wetle was recruited as dean in 2000. In 2004, Wetle worked with then-provost Robert Zimmer to plan expansion.

“That’s when it really got rolling,” Wetle said. Since that time, the public health department has made regular reports to the biomedical advisory department, bringing the school’s establishment into the broader conversation.

That establishment has met some delays. The proposal was slated to go before the FEC at the end of last semester, but the presentation was pushed to this spring or next fall, Wetle said.

Schlissel, who became provost last year, wanted to understand the “ins and outs” of creating the school, Wetle said. Schlissel is “being very careful to understand all aspects” of the issue and is “identifying the most appropriate structure” for the future school, Wetle said.

“It’s a complicated matter,” Schlissel said, adding that the presidential search also delayed the process.

Wetle said she believes President-elect Christina Paxson supports the creation of the school. “Although Princeton doesn’t have a school of public health, she has focused on public health-relevant issues in her own research,” Wetle said. “I’ve spoken with her, and she is enthusiastic about working with us.”

The process has passed several milestones along the path to accreditation. The program in public health has enlarged its academic programs, adding five master’s degrees and a third doctorate program to its academic offerings. The number of tenured faculty has increased to 32, with five additional recruitments underway, Wetle said. Last year, the program created four distinct departments: epidemiology; behavioral and social sciences; biostatistics and health services, policy and practice. The program has made these changes to meet school accreditation requirements set by the Council for Education in Public Health, Wetle said.

With official accreditation behind its name, the new public health school will act as a “recruitment magnet” for undergraduates, she said. In addition, the school’s formal accreditation will appeal to graduate students and “recruit and retain the highest quality faculty,” Wetle said.

Formal accreditation will open up funding opportunities as well, as some federal grants can be obtained only by accredited schools, Schlissel said.

For students who advocate the University’s increased involvement in the public health arena, the school’s formal accreditation is “the first step in the right direction,” said Nihaal Mehta ’14, a health and human biology concentrator focusing on global health.

“It will help Brown more generally in its visibility among its peers, in terms of saying, ‘This is a serious, high-quality  program,'” Wetle said.