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Due to rapid growth over the past decade, the Department of Community Health is in the process of splitting into four new departments, with the long-term goal of founding a school of public health.

The four new departments will be biostatistics, epidemiology, behavior and social science, and health services, policy, and practice, said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy.

"We're going through… a formal University approval process which takes several steps," including a vote from department faculty, presentations to all faculty, the Academic Priorities Committee and the Faculty Executive Committee, and approval from the Corporation, Wetle said.

The next step is a vote Monday by the Biomedical Faculty Council, she said. The Academic Priorities Committee will likely vote on the proposal early in the spring semester, wrote its chair, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98, in an e-mail to The Herald.

"Since 2004, we have had four sections within the department of community health, and those four sections are now evolving into departments," Wetle said, adding that this growth is part of a strategic plan that has been in place since 2002.

Edward Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that the goal of splitting into separate departments is to increase efficiency and "prepare for the eventual goal of a School of Public Health."

The Department of Community Health has recently experienced increases in undergraduate and graduate enrollments as well as faculty. The department is recruiting research faculty and faculty generally as part of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, "to continue to grow," Wetle said.  

"There's a national and international growing interest in public health, with recognition that a majority of premature deaths are associated with health behaviors," Wetle said. "We recognize that there are huge public health opportunities, and there's been a growing interest in both undergraduate and graduate students in pursuing careers in public health, and so Brown had a very strong base upon which to build," including 10 research centers, Wetle added. The department currently receives $35.8 million per year in external funding, Wetle wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Under Wetle, the Program in Public Health has "hired new faculty, grown their research, and developed broad based relations across Rhode Island, our hospital partners and other groups," Wing wrote.

Vincent Mor, professor of medical science and former chair of the department, said he has been behind the plan of splitting the Department of Community Health all along. "I helped write the plans," he said, adding that he hopes that the Corporation approves the split this year.

"With 70 (full-time) faculty in the Department of Community Health, it's just unwieldy. It's too big. I was chair for a long time and it's unmanageable," Mor said.


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