School of public health in planning stages for 2010

Program will move to 121 South Main St. later this month

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The University’s nine centers of public health will begin a phased move into 121 South Main St. July 30 as part of the program’s general expansion and anticipated transition to a school of public health in 2010. Faculty hires, increased graduate student enrollment and new degree offerings will likely occur over the next several years as the program works toward Brown Corporation approval and national accreditation as a school of public health.

“This is a Corporation decision,” said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy. “It is not something we decide on our own.”

The University purchased the program’s building at 121 South Main St. for $31.5 million in August 2005, though its intended purpose was not specified at the time. Wetle said it was purchased with “a strong indication it would go to public health centers.”

The University has outlined a 15-year transition process from commercial to tax-exempt status for the building. Brown will continue to manage the building’s 11 floors of commercial space as a fully taxable commercial property and has promised to honor all existing leases. Retail activities on the ground floor of the 160,000 square foot building, which includes Hemenway’s Seafood Grille, will continue for the foreseeable future.

The building – which will house researchers, faculty, computer labs, classrooms, a lecture hall and social areas – will eventually contain all the University’s public health centers and the Department of Community Health, with “room to spare for future growth,” wrote Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Eli Adashi in a July 12 letter announcing the move.

Approximately 57,000 square feet will be occupied in the coming months, and up to 90,000 square feet will be in use by 2010, according to Adashi’s announcement. Adashi’s letter did not specifically reference plans for an accredited school of public health.

The program’s expansion will not be financed entirely by the University. Wetle and her colleagues devised a business plan for the move toward an accredited school that will ensure the program breaks even as revenue from public health programs’ tuition, research grants and gifts increases.

A potential $30 million gift to endow the Program in Public Health and $20 million to name the public health building are listed as Category One needs for the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, according to Neil Steinberg ’75, vice president for development and campaign director.

“We could find somebody interested (in giving) this week, we could find somebody a year from now,” he said.

Because of the program’s business plan, however, plans for a school are not contingent on a large donation.

“The downside is we’re having to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Wetle said. “The advantage is we don’t have to wait for someone to come along to make this possible.”

Adashi cited public health’s increasing global importance and growth in research funding as motivations for the program’s expansion.

Focusing on public health is a natural fit for Brown, Wetle said. The University’s undergraduate concentration in community health was one of the country’s first, founded in 1971. If the school opens in 2010, it will come nearly a century after the Corporation recommended founding a school of public health in 1917, Wetle said.

“It’s not a hard sell,” she said. “We’re already competing successfully with many institutions for good students.” The program’s research in alcohol and addiction studies, behavioral studies, HIV/AIDS and bioterrorism and emerging pathogens are among the areas that have established the program’s reputation nationally, she said.

Shortly after Wetle arrived at Brown in 2000, when the Master of Public Health program began, she and her colleagues started “positioning ourselves as a school of public health.” She said planning was met with support from then-Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Donald Marsh, and, later, then-Provost Robert Zimmer, who left the University June 30 to become president of the University of Chicago.

Six years later, some conditions for accreditation as a school, such as increased faculty and expanded graduate programs, must still be met. In addition to strengthening programmatic offerings in the five core areas of public health – biostatistics, epidemiology, health services, public health administration and behavioral and social sciences – administrators will have to restructure administrative reporting lines within the University.

Wetle said moving into the new building is a crucial first stage for the expansion.

“It’s important that we have this space because right now we’re bursting at the seams,” she said.

Though the MPH program will enroll 29 new students this fall, its current classroom in Arnold Laboratory can only “comfortably fit” 23, Wetle said.

As more space allows the program to grow, total enrollment in all public health master’s programs is expected to more than double to 110 students by fiscal year 2011, Wetle said.

Of the 17 new tenure-track positions the program seeks to fill in the coming years, four have already been filled, and Wetle said she expects the program’s overall teaching and research faculty will double from under 50 to nearly 100.

New master’s programs are in various stages of planning, Wetle said, including a master’s in clinical epidemiology or research methodology and a joint M.D./MPH program that would allow medical students to earn an MPH degree without taking a year off from the Medical School, as they do now.

A joint MPH/A.B. program is in final stages of approval, said director of the MPH program and Associate Professor of Community Health and Pediatrics Patrick Vivier ’85 MD’89. Undergraduates would enter this program in their sophomore or junior years and graduate in five years with both degrees, he said.

This degree program, and further integration of the program’s various centers, will ensure that undergraduates also benefit from the expansion, Wetle said.

“I don’t see this in any way as pulling back from the undergraduate program,” Wetle said. “We hope undergraduates will be willing to walk down the hill.”

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