University News

Community Health may split into four

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Department of Community Health is planning to split into four new departments, according to Associate Dean of Medicine for Public Health and Public Policy Terrie Wetle.

The change, if it happens, will be an important step toward the creation of a school of public health at Brown.

The department is currently organized into four sections — behavioral and social sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology, and health services, policy and practice — that will become new academic departments within the Division of Biology and Medicine.

“Structurally, the departments will be very similar to our current sections,” Wetle said.

The Department of Community Health approved the split internally in January but will have to clear a number of hurdles before the move is formalized. Wetle said the department is planning to submit a formal proposal for the split by the end of the academic year. 

The department has made a presentation of its intention to the Biomedical Faculty Council and the Academic Priorities Committee, which will be the first bodies to take a vote once formal documents are filed. If approved, the proposal will then move to the Faculty Executive Committee before being considered by the entire faculty. Finally, the Corporation will have to approve the split at one of its three yearly meetings.

Assuming all proceedings run smoothly, the Department of Community Health will split into four departments by July 2011 at the earliest, according to Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98.

Wetle said there were a number of reasons for splitting the department, including growing logistical and recruiting concerns. The department, founded in 1971, has grown rapidly in recent years to encompass 27 tenure-track faculty and 140 affiliated faculty overall, she said.

“We are a pretty substantial size,” Wetle said. “It is very difficult for a single chair to manage a 140-faculty-member department.”

She also emphasized the importance of creating specialized departments to attract students and faculty to Brown.

“It is actually a benefit to recruit someone into a department that they recognize as their area of discipline,” Wetle said. “If you are getting a Ph.D. in epidemiology, getting that in a department of epidemiology is more attractive than it is in a department of community health.”

Chair of the Department and Professor of Medical Science Vincent Mor, who is also the head of the health services, policy and practice section, will step down as chair after this year in order to focus on teaching and research, Wetle said. The department is in the process of recruiting a replacement, and Wetle will serve as interim chair. The other three section heads will likely move into the role of department chairs, she said.

Kertzer, who called public health “an area of great pride for the University,” said he supports the department-splitting but recognizes the cost concerns as the University tries to cut its budget.

“The finances will be one thing we will look at very carefully,” Kertzer said. “Brown does want to consolidate where we can, but we also want to continue to strengthen our academic enterprise.”

Splitting large departments has occurred before at Brown. Mor said the plans within his department are similar to the split and restructuring that the Department of Biology went through several years ago. Just two weeks ago, the Corporation approved the merger of the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences and the Department of Psychology, two departments that had separated in 1986.

Wetle said she suspects the resource requirements for the new departments might be a concern and has been “tracking very closely” the Organizational Review Committee’s report on administrative structures for departments.

“There are some costs to growth,” Wetle said. “But the modest additional cost of moving from sections to departments will be very small because we already have an organizational structure in place.”

She said the split should also be put in the context of the growing Department of Community Health, which has more than tripled in size in the last five years and currently receives $38 million per year in external funding.

“We have been generating revenues to support the growth that we are undertaking,” she said. “We have worked very hard to make this very efficient.”

Both Wetle and Kertzer said creating the new departments is an important step in establishing a school of public health at Brown.

“As we are positioning ourselves to be a school of public health, we will want and need to have these departments, so it’s just steps along a progression,” Wetle said.

The University had targeted 2010 as the new school’s creation date, according to a July 2006 article in The Herald. But Kertzer said the economic crisis has delayed the project indefinitely.

“We are hoping that we can move ahead with the school in the fairly near future, but we really don’t know exactly when,” Kertzer said. “We are expecting Brown to end up with one of the strongest schools of public health in the country.”

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