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School of Public Health approved

The Corporation approved the creation of a School of Public Health in a conference call Wednesday, President Christina Paxson wrote in a community-wide email Thursday.

The current Program in Public Health will become a separate school in July, at which point its leaders will begin working to get it nationally accredited, according to a University press release.

The Corporation was originally scheduled to vote on establishing the school at its meeting last weekend. But due to the impending Winter Storm Nemo, the Corporation’s meeting was curtailed and the vote pushed back.

Moving from a program to an accredited school will make studies in the field more visible on campus and throughout the nation, said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy. Having a public health school will also bolster natural partnerships with other University departments and public health facilities throughout the state, she said.

Wetle will become dean of the school in July, according to the release.

Corporation approval comes after the faculty voted unanimously to approve the creation of the school last November, The Herald reported previously. The motion had also been approved by the Faculty Executive Committee, faculty members in biomedicine and public health and the Academic Priorities Committee at the time.

By the time the motion to create a school reached the general faculty vote, it had passed through seven other votes by University leadership, including committees with student members such as the University Resources Committee, Wetle said.

Wetle and others met with subcommittees of the Corporation to explain how an expanded school “fits into the culture and ethos of Brown,” Wetle said, adding that the committees were concerned about building a sustainable financial model.

Creating the School of Public Health will expand both the student and faculty applicant pools and raise the numbers of admits who matriculate, Wetle said, adding that it will also increase chances to receive funding both for the school and for individual researchers.

Whenever something expands like this within the University, leaders of the community wonder “how (many) resources are needed to sustain it successfully,” said Christopher Khaler, professor and department chair of behavior and social sciences.

In creating a new school, leaders often worry about hampering cross-department collaboration, but this “will probably do the opposite,” Khaler said.

Ira Wilson, professor of health services, policy and practice, who worked closely with the progress of the school, said very few concerns were raised about the motion. “Almost everybody recognizes that this is good for Brown,” Wilson said.

Creating a school “makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways because public health is an interdisciplinary department,” said Josh Prenner ’14, who was originally a community health concentrator but has since switched to human biology.

“It is a harbinger of other good things that will take place,” said Dan Escuerdo GS, who is studying epidemiology. Science is a “team sport” that requires collaboration across departments and works best when quality researchers collaborate with each other, he said, adding that creating a school is a great way to further that work.

One of the main emphases in working toward the transition to a school was developing ways to “maintain positive collaborations in both research and educational programs,” Wetle said.

Over the past decade, the Program in Public Health has grown from a single department to many departments, research centers and course offerings, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.

The program currently serves over 1,900 students, Wetle said.

“It’s really become enormous over the last decade, and it represents an area where Brown faculty and students can collaborate on great scholarship that has tremendous impact and importance for society,” Schlissel said.

The Program in Public Health and its faculty members “have long been deeply integrated and collaborative with many departments at Brown,” and that will only continue, Wilson said.

It will be great for students to graduate from a school, rather than from a program, Wetle said. “There is a certain cache to this.”