Public health students protest closure of department

By Jane R. Elgass

A moratorium on student admissions and faculty recruiting for the Department of Population Planning and International Health led to a protest by five speakers and student colleagues at the public comments session of the Regents’ meeting on Jan. 21.

The students were told of the moratorium when they returned from the holiday break.

In a Jan. 21 memo to School of Public Health faculty, Dean June E. Osborn stated that the moratorium was a unanimous decision of the Executive Committee, which felt the action was necessary for several reasons:

—“The impending retirement of a substantial majority of the department’s faculty as of June 1995.

—“The need for extensive reinvestment to maintain an appropriate complement of faculty for ongoing programs.

—“The severe financial constraints under which the School is presently operating as well as the probability of an additional 10 percent cut in general funds over the next five years.”

Osborn noted in the memo that the “moratorium is being put in place now so that we can follow procedures in the Standard Practice Guide Policy 601.2 relating to discontinuance of programs. Those procedures will be followed in an orderly manner,” she stated.

Speaking to the Regents on behalf of the 70 students in the program, second-year masters student Carol Ann Miller raised the issue of procedure, stating that according to the Standard Practice Guide “an independent assessment by peer review should take place, that there should be maximum time for early and timely input and that there should be faculty consultation.”

Miller said that while “this procedure is not binding, there is precedence in the School of Public Health for bringing in outside reviewers, adding that Osborn had “acted as judge and jury with no pretense of following procedures.”

Christine Kolars, who is pursuing a dual degree through the School of Public Health and the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, said she was drawn to the U-M program, despite offers of more support from other schools, because of the “unique focus of its courses.”

Kolars stated that the “implications of closing the program would be far-reaching, some not felt for many years to come,” adding that affiliated programs would be affected by closure of the department, which is considered “the leading program nationwide.”

These include, she said, the Population Environment Dynamics Program, the Population Fellows Program and programs supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

The University’s focus on multidisciplinary programs and an international perspective were cited by Suzinne Pak as reasons for keeping the program.

Pak, a doctoral candidate, was attracted to the U-M program because of “its research opportunities in international health, the unique curriculum and the caliber of the faculty.

“The department has a vital and unique role in developing and sustaining a program with an international perspective,” Pak said, adding that she questioned closure based on fiscal considerations, since closure would result in loss of outside funding.

The program’s focus on providing a foundation in operations research and in developing skills in implementing and evaluating programs to improve delivery drew Ph.D. candidate Jonathan Gorstein to the program from a position with the World Health Organization.

“Most programs in this area focus on epidemiology. At the U-M, the emphasis is on the use of existing resources in the most effective way to get the greatest results. No other program in the United States or internationally offers this.

“There is a well-established cadre of graduates worldwide who are considered experts,” Gorstein noted, as well as senior faculty members and deans in the United States and several other countries.

“The program is recognized for academic excellence in family planning, child and maternal health, and innovative strategies in addressing AIDS,” Gorstein added.

First-year student Hollie Malamud, who joined the program because she felt that she “would receive the best possible training at the U-M,” noted that under President Bill Clinton there is a pledge for the first time in 10 years to support AIDS and birth control research.

“To disband this program would be to do the world community a great disservice. This program is in high demand, brings in research dollars and addresses societal needs.

“Please ensure a fair hearing and due process [for a program that is] a leading force in world change,” Malamud asked.


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