The University Record, March 1, 1993

PPIH faculty take concerns over closure to Regents

By Jane R. Elgass

Calling the handling of the proposed closing of the Department of Population Planning and International Health (PPIH) a “flagrant disregard of policy,” department Chair Yuzuru J. Takeshita called upon the Board of Regents to encourage the University administration and School of Public Health Dean June E. Osborn to admit error.

Takeshita and four other PPIH faculty members addressed the Regents during the Feb. 18 public comments session of their meeting.

The manner in which the decision was made and announced by the dean, Takeshita said, “was a grave injustice. There is a process clearly expressed; we must have consultation. The dean did not consult me prior to her announcement.”

He said the administration now says the proper procedures will be followed, but there has been no public admission of error. “The case is prejudged. I am disappointed that the repercussions of the earlier actions are not being recognized.”

Gayl D. Ness, professor of sociology and of population planning and international health who also is affiliated with the Global Change Project, noted that the faculty and administration established “a set of wise rules that call for participation in decisions. When the rules are violated, there are bad decisions, giving rise to a great deal of anger.

“I can’t tell you how unhappy I am to be here,” Ness told the Regents. “This could have been resolved at the school level. I don’t believe the process is or can be put on track. The moratorium prejudges the case.”

Ness added that he would like to see the moratorium lifted and called for an “examination of the entire school, its mission and how it is organized to meet that mission.”

Commenting on the substance of the unit’s work, Ruth S. Simmons noted that PPIH “addresses some of the most important issues of the 1990s and the next century. The program and policy emphasis make the department unique,” she said, adding that the integration of population studies and international health also sets it apart.

“We take pride that our research is consistently cited. Well organized and properly managed, we can succeed.”

Graduates of the program, Simmons said, “have a tremendous reputation” and the unit is praised for the “magic quality” of its students. “Junior colleagues in foreign countries come here to study.

“We exemplify the internationalism and multiculturalism to which the University has committed itself,” added Simmons, who is associate professor of population planning and international health and of public health policy and administration.

One of the reasons for closure cited by Osborn—inability to recruit new faculty members—was refuted by Robin Barlow, professor of population planning and international health and adjunct research scientist, Center for Research on Economic Development. A specialist in population economics, Barlow switched to the department last summer. “My timing was a bit off,” he said, “sort of like signing up for the Titanic. I am living refutation that the department can’t recruit.”

Barlow also noted that the sequence of events is out of order. “We start with punishment and then decide how to proceed. It’s sort of like Alice Through the Looking Glass.

“There may have been good reasons for the punishment, but those reasons have not been revealed. I am not impressed by the caliber of the reasons given.”

Stating that he seemed “to be standing here as an opponent of the University that nurtured me, provided me with my academic values, and enabled me to pursue a highly interesting career,” Jason L. Finkle said he was at the public comments session “to defend the values I learned at the University.”

Finkle, professor of population planning, contended that , the dean “did not bother to learn whether there were procedures to follow... If such procedures had been followed conscientiously and honestly, she and this University would have discovered that they had in their midst perhaps the most outstanding department in this country in the areas of population planning and international health.”

Finkle quoted from a letter to Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. from Steven Sinding: “...it is possible that the University is not aware of what a central role it plays in addressing this most critical of international issues. The loss of Michigan’s population planning department would deal a crippling blow to our ability to recruit and deploy well-trained, highly motivated and immensely effective field practitioners. No institution comes close to equaling Michigan’s in this regard.”

Sinding was the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Population and was a senior adviser on population at the World Bank. He now directs population sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation.

Colleagues nationwide, Finkle said, have expressed support for the department, saying that it “plays a central role in addressing critical issues, that no other institution comes close [to its achievements].” He said that the Executive Officers and others have received similar messages, and that “they are not orchestrated.”

Finkle said that the provost’s commitment to back the deans and the Regents’ reluctance to “overrule the decisions of particular departments or schools ... may be to tolerate an injustice that contravenes the articulate international missions of the University, disregards President [James J.] Duderstadt’s M-Quality guidelines, and perpetuates a painful quagmire that could end the valuable and world-recognized contributions of a small department in a small school in a great University.”

He called on the University to admit that Osborn made an error, reaffirm its commitment to and support of the department, lift the moratorium on student admissions and faculty recruitment, and bring in outside experts to identify ways to strengthen the program within the budget of the School of Public Health.

“Let us admit our mistakes and move forward from here,” Finkle said.

Noting that the potential closure of the department “is clearly an emotional issue,” Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. told the Regents Feb. 19 that Osborn and the school’s Executive Committee “are making diligent efforts to be fair. The faculty and students are clearly concerned.”

Whitaker said that Osborn had asked him if she should appear at the public comments session and he counseled against it, saying it “was not the place to debate the issue.”

The provost noted that there are “clear procedures we must follow,” adding that they may need revision. He stated that those involved should now “focus on issues of substance, rather than process” in an attempt to “get beyond emotional issues.”