University News

Faculty unanimously approves public health school

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2012

The Program in Public Health took a major step toward becoming an officially accredited school as the faculty unanimously approved the school’s formation at their meeting Tuesday. The faculty vote marks “the last of the campus approval steps” in the 12-year effort to establish the school for public health, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.
Having been unanimously approved by the public health faculty, the Biomedical Faculty Council, the Academic Priorities Committee, the Faculty Executive Committee and the faculty, a school for public health is quickly becoming reality. The proposal awaits the nod from President Christina Paxson and will go to the Corporation for approval in February 2013. If the Corporation approves the measure, the program in public health will be declared a school and will apply for official accreditation with the Council on Education for Public Health in 2013.
The faculty’s unanimous motion to approve the school came as no surprise to Schlissel, who said the proposal had “been through many rounds of discussion and modification” prior to the faculty vote.
At the meeting, Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and policy, recounted the groups that had approved the proposal, read the resolution to endorse the proposal and asked faculty members to voice concerns or objections, Schlissel said.
“At this point all the homework had been done,” said Joseph Hogan, professor of biostatistics. The vote was “really the capstone to what has been a very long process,” he said.
A hearty round of applause accompanied the faculty’s vote of approval.
Hogan described the unanimous vote as a “vote of confidence” from the faculty. “If there had been major resistance it would have been surprising,” Hogan said. “There were lots of opportunities to raise major objections, and those objections have already been addressed.”
Despite the strong display of faculty support, there was still “some anxiety as to whether the proposal would pass” due to structural financial changes accompanying public health’s redesignation, said Orna Intrator, associate professor of health services, policy and practice.
Currently, the program in public health’s funding from the National Institutes of Health and from other sources are funneled through the Alpert Medical School, she said. These grants constitute significant financial support – if the public health program were currently an officially accredited school, it would rank between seventh and 11th place in amount of grant money received from the NIH, Intrator said. With the formation of the school and accompanying hierarchical reporting changes, this funding will be transferred from the Med School’s overhead to that of the public health school.
“It’s always about the money,” Intrator said.
This change could also have a negative effect on the rankings of the medical school, Schlissel previously told The Herald.
The formation of the school “is on one hand exciting,” Intrator said. “And on the other hand there is trepidation.”
While Intrator and others voice support but advocate caution in proceeding with the school’s formation, the faculty’s approval is “the realization of a vision we have had for quite some time,” Hogan said, crediting the work of Vincent Mor, a long-serving chair of the community health department, and Wetle, who took over the public health program’s reigns in 2000.
“Fox Wetle deserves a lot of credit for really carrying the ball over the goal line,” Hogan said.
The program in public health underwent major structural changes in 2011, establishing four unique internal departments to fit national accreditation guidelines, Hogan said. The four departments are biostatistics, epidemiology, behavioral and social sciences and health services, policy and practice.
This organizational change in preparation for the transition to a school “confers disciplinary identity” for programs such as biostatistics, avoids the “amorphous” identity of the public health program and allows public health disciplines “to get on the map, both internally and externally of the University,” Hogan said.
“The change will be good for the identity of public health,” said Christopher Kahler, professor and department chair of behavior and social sciences. “It gives us standing with other peer institutions whose public health programs are housed within a school,” he said.
On campus, the school’s establishment will “open doors to future collaboration” between public health faculty members, the Med School and myriad other disciplinary departments, Kahler said.
The new school will function as a recruiting magnet for public health faculty members at outstanding health schools around the country and world, Hogan said. In the past, public health’s program status has functioned as a recruiting impediment because “people worry their discipline will not be appreciated,” he added.
The school will also attract grad students who “have public health explicably in their career sights,” Hogan said, adding that the school “expands the range of students we’ll be able to go after.” How the school will interact with the undergraduate body is less clear.
Kahler said he thought the change would make the community health concentration and coursework more attractive to undergraduates, lending visibility to available five-year public health master’s programs.
Katherine DeAngelis ’13, who is working toward a master’s degree in public health, said the change would attract more students to the “constantly growing” community health major.
“I think that people are really beginning to recognize that public heath and prevention of disease is the forward-thinking way,” DeAngelis said.
And public health’s transition to a school aligns well with the ethos of Brown, Hogan said.
“This is a noble undertaking consistent with Brown’s philosophy and DNA,” Hogan said.
With public health bridging the divide between scientific research and social application, he said, “it’s the natural direction for Brown to go.”


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Joseph Hogan was graduate director of biostatistics. In fact, that role now belongs to Professor Zhijin Wu. The Herald regrets the error.