University News

Dean of School of Public Health to step down

Dean Terrie Fox Wetle to leave behind legacy of establishing school, building strong faculty

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2016

Hired in 2000 to champion the development of the School of Public Health, Fox grew the faculty to over 250 members across disciplines. Colleagues lauded not only Fox’s professional achievements as a researcher and administrator but also her genial personality as a campus and community leader.

Dean of the School of Public Health and Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice Terrie Fox Wetle will officially step down from the position of dean Sept. 1, 2017. Fox will return as a professor of health services, policy and practice after taking a sabbatical. President Christina Paxson P’19 will chair the committee that will search for the school’s next dean, Fox said.

Fox was recruited in October 2000 from the National Institutes of Health to work on the development of the School of Public Health, she said.

Around 2000, the Department of Community Health — which managed the public health program at the time — was searching for candidates to chair the geriatrics division, said Vincent Mor, former chair of the department and current professor of health services, policy and practice.

Mor said he wanted to hire Richard Besdine, professor of geriatric medicine, from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Fox, who is married to Besdine, was then the deputy director of the National Institute on Aging in Washington, D.C. Mor worked to create the position of associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy for Fox so that he could bring the talents of both Fox and Besdine to Brown, allowing them to live together, he said.

“In many respects, (Fox) was the real prize because she was a very skilled and experienced academics administrator,” Mor said. “Her (former) boss, who is the director of the National Institute on Aging, still is not happy with me that I stole her away from him.”

When Fox arrived, she and other administrators created a plan to grow the existing public health program into a graduate school, she said. The Department of Community Health was split into four programs: behavioral and social sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology and health services, policy and practice, said Karen Scanlan, director of public health communications.

During the school’s development process, Fox led the expansion of faculty and the acquisition of a new building for the school, according to a community-wide email. The School of Public Health began with only 10 tenured faculty members in 2000 and now has 35 tenured professors and almost 250 total faculty members.

Fox said her greatest achievement as dean was pulling together staff and faculty members who all share a vision: teaching and researching population health with the Brown values of interdisciplinary work, student involvement and community engagement, she said.

Under Fox’s tenure, the School of Public Health was officially established July 1, 2013 and received accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health June 18. The school has also built relationships with a number of community partners, including the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“She took (the School of Public Health) from an idea and a dream into a reality,” Mor said. “She was spectacular at getting University administration to see her vision, adopt it and make it their own.”

Scanlan calls Fox a “quadruple threat” as a mentor, researcher, teacher and community leader. Fox has continued to teach a class on qualitative research methods and mentor both students and other faculty members throughout her deanship, said Don Operario, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of behavioral and social sciences.

In addition to the many roles in which she serves, Fox’s warmth and graciousness are profound, Scanlan said. Visitors to the School of Public Health often comment on how “accessible, in-touch and personable” Fox is with everyone around her, Operario said.

Not only has Fox spearheaded the development of the School of Public Health as an institution, she has also helped shape the school’s culture, Operario said. Her commitment to inclusion was evident in her advocacy of the school’s diversity and inclusion plan, he said. Fox saw the plan as “more than just a simple report,” Operario added.

“It takes a special person to create a culture and a community in which people have a sense of identity and inclusion,” Operario said. “I like to think the School of Public Health has that, and it’s because of Fox’s leadership and the person she is.”

Fox said that she, Paxson and Provost Richard Locke P’17 had been discussing her transition for a few months and were waiting for the right time to make the announcement. Paxson is currently in the process of identifying possible members to serve on the search committee, which will have student representation, Paxson wrote in an email to The Herald, adding that the search will be conducted nationally.

Fox said she hopes her legacy will include the recruitment of a new dean who is committed to the progress of the school, adding that the next dean will “have the opportunity to put their own imprint on the program, now that there is a much sturdier structure.”

Paxson expects the next dean to continue building and improving the school’s 12 research centers as well as the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, she wrote. Other priorities include expanding undergraduate programs, diversity initiatives and community relationships, Operario said.

After her sabbatical, Fox will be able to continue working on her passions of teaching and research, she said, adding that she had set a personal goal to get the school accredited before stepping down as dean. “Administrative jobs are incredibly complex, and they require a great deal of time and effort,” Fox said. “Right now, I’m only able to teach one class a year, and I’m not able to participate in research as much as I would like.”

But Fox said she still looks fondly on her job, despite the tradeoffs that may come with administrative duties. “I love what I’ve done here, and it’s a joy to come to work every day,” Fox said. “I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity. It’s a blessing to love the work you do.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Karen Scanlan, director of public health communications, called Dean of the School of Public Health and Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice Terrie Fox Wetle a “quadruple threat” as a clinician, researcher, teacher and community leader. In fact, Scanlan called Fox a “quadruple threat” as a mentor, researcher, teacher and community leader. The Herald regrets the error.