The University Record, May 10, 1993

Osborn announces resignation after committee rejects PPIH closure

June E. Osborn, dean of the School of Public Health, announced last Monday that she intended to resign, after a special review committee recommended that the School’s Department of Population Planning and International Health (PPIH) not be closed.

The review committee’s recommendation to continue the department was contrary to the dean’s and the School’s Executive Committee’s decision, reported last December, to close PPIH by June 1995.

The committee also recommended external oversight of the department in the form of a senior scholar from outside the department to shape direction and planning for the immediate future as well as recruitment of a scholar in the field from another university on a visiting appointment to also give planning guidance and fill in a lack of senior personnel in PPIH, which has had serious problems with vacancies.

The decision to close the department had generated debate within the School and across the University. A moratorium had been placed on the admission of master’s degree students and on the recruitment of new faculty; the moratorium on admissions was later partially lifted.

In a letter to the School’s Executive Committee, in which she explained her reasons for resigning, Osborn said, “Since I find none of the [review committee’s] recommendations (or even their possible modifications) to be ones I can reasonably administer, I have so informed the provost and have asked that I be relieved of my duties as dean as of Sept. 1.”

Osborn stated that she will continue to fulfill the duties of dean until an interim dean can be appointed. As of Sept. 1, she will go on leave for a year before resuming her appointment in the School’s department of epidemiology.

“During June Osborn’s tenure as dean, the School of Public Health has made considerable progress in the key areas of enrollment and sponsored research, and has made a number of outstanding faculty appointments,” said Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. “I am saddened that she has chosen not to finish her term as dean, but am pleased that she will continue on the faculty after her leave.”

Osborn is chair of the National Commission on AIDS. She has been dean of the school since 1984.

In its report to Whitaker, the review committee concluded that, given the data made available to the committee and the “salience of the work of the department to the mission and function of the School of Public Health,” closing of the department is not warranted.

Reasons cited by the committee include: the decision process followed was flawed; and, at the current time, there are insufficient grounds for closing the department under the criteria listed in the University’s Standard Practice Guide.

The committee, chaired by John H. Romani, chair and professor of public health administration, also unanimously recommended that:

—The provost appoint a senior scholar from outside the present PPIH faculty to set the direction and plan the next steps to be taken in development of PPIH. In addition, a person from outside the University, a senior person on a visiting appointment, should be recruited and appointed by the provost to play a significant role in shaping the department’s future options and serving senior staffing needs, noted the committee.

—The provost appoint a review committee to perform an external review of the mission, strategic plan and organization of the School of Public Health towards “a greater rationalization of the relationship of the fields of population planning and international health to other aspects of the School’s function, and a full review of the School’s departmental structure.”

—The present moratorium on admission to the Master of Public Health program in PPIH be lifted, allowing the department to admit up to 20 new students per year, but no students be admitted to any other graduate degree programs in the department.

—The University examine its guidelines for program closure. “Clarification of these procedures is needed, particularly in reference to the timing of the external reviews, responsibility for appointment of the external review group, and the arrangements for reporting the results of the review,” according to the committee.

While the committee found the role of PPIH remains viable and important with the increased internationalization of public health issues, the members identified problems in staffing, scholarly productivity and research grant awards that should be rectified.

The reported noted that “... the reduction in staffing due to untimely deaths and planned retirements will swiftly reduce the faculty to a point at which the teaching program will no longer be viable.”

The committee said that the major reason for the current situation is that “the department’s recruitment strategy has been ill-advised. It failed to increase the number of non-tenured and tenured faculty, even when hiring positions were made available by the dean and the Executive Committee.”

The committee also noted, that while it lacked time to review the unit’s teaching, it found a lack of participation by most staff in contributions to refereed journals and the same to be true in active research funding with only one research scientist responsible for the vast majority of the grants.

Whitaker has asked Osborn, the Executive Committee and PPIH faculty members to review and respond to the report by May 14.

He will consider the report and responses and determine his course of action in the very near future. The June meeting of the Regents may present an opportunity for a discussion of the report and recommendations together with Whitaker’s reactions to them.