Public Health dean to retire

After 10 years as dean of the School of Public Health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Dr. Michael Merson announced Tuesday that he will step down from his position in January.

Merson said he has decided to step down because he feels many department objectives set forth under his watch have been met, and it is his time to move on.

“I’ve had 10 wonderful years as dean of Public Health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, and now I’m looking forward to returning to the faculty to continue with academic and scholarly work,” Merson said. “We have achieved a lot of the goals we set at the beginning, and I have really enjoyed the work, which has been extremely interesting and exciting.”

University President Richard Levin and School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said an interim public health dean will be appointed shortly. Alpern said the chair of the search committee for a permanent dean will likely be named before the end of December.

“We will probably form a search committee in the coming weeks,” Alpern said. “It’s a critical time for the department, and it will be important to choose the right dean to define exactly where the department is heading in coming years.”

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the committee will likely consider dean candidates from across the nation, but the search may be challenging because several other universities are presently seeking to fill similar positions. Salovey said a current member of the University’s public health faculty will likely assume the role of interim dean.

Merson, the Anna M. R. Lauder Professor of Public Health, arrived at Yale in 1995 after 17 years with the World Health Organization, where he led a number of initiatives, including the WHO Global Program on AIDS. Though he will go on sabbatical in January, Merson said he plans to return to Yale as a faculty member shortly thereafter.

The School of Public Health will most likely continue to broaden its research and student base in coming years, especially because interest in epidemiology among undergraduate students has recently increased, he said.

Merson said his immediate plans for the future include writing a book about the global response to the first 15 years of the AIDS pandemic. In addition to his continued academic work, he said he will continue to lead the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, which he established in 1997. The CIRA, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researches HIV prevention in vulnerable and under-served populations across the globe.

Merson’s colleagues praised his leadership and contributions to the School of Public Health.

School of Public Health vice chair and deputy dean Brian Leaderer said Merson has played an active role in the department’s growth.

“Mike has been a very effective dean, as well as a strong and consistent voice for public health in the department, medical school, graduate and professional schools, and Yale College,” Leaderer said. “With him as dean, we’ve had a substantial increase in new and talented faculty, as well as expanded teaching and research facilities. He has made substantial increases in the number of minority students we have, and he’s really gained the full respect and support of the faculty.”

Professor Stanislav Kasl, division head of chronic disease epidemiology, said Merson’s public health experience will be an asset to his colleagues in the school’s faculty.

“I think Dean Merson has been really excellent in that he was truly devoted to the job and mission of public health studies at Yale,” Kasl said. “He spent a lot of time and energy to have us move forward — we all appreciate what he’s done. But as he will stay a part of the faculty, we will be able to use him for advice and similar things.”

Kasl said some challenges a new dean might face include strengthening interaction and communication between the School of Public Health and School of Medicine, since Alpern was installed only six months ago.

Dr. Michael Merson, dean of the School of Public Health, stands behind Sen. Joseph Lieberman during a Sept. 2 discussion on anti-terror funding. Merson will resign from his position in January.
Katie Dewitt
Dr. Michael Merson, dean of the School of Public Health, stands behind Sen. Joseph Lieberman during a Sept. 2 discussion on anti-terror funding. Merson will resign from his position in January.

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