In January, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity will complete a move from its current home beyond Science Hill to the University of Connecticut’s new campus in Hartford, the Center announced Friday.
The Center was founded at Yale in 2005 and since has been a leader in obesity prevention and weight stigma research. Though the Center will not officially be part of UConn until Jan. 1, 2015, the moving process is well in the works, with some researchers already situated at their new desks in various departments across UConn. The Rudd Center is the only group of researchers at Yale focused on food policy, and the move to UConn was triggered by a desire to be integrated with the broader research community, said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center.
“[UConn is] really in a growth period,” Schwartz said. “We’re excited to be somewhere where other researchers are doing similar work.”
Yale does not have a department of public policy, nutrition or a school of agriculture, Schwartz said. UConn, in addition to having all three, has an entire department of agricultural economists. Schwartz added that Tatiana Andreyeva, the director of economic initiatives at the Rudd Center, was siloed in her work as the only person doing research on agricultural economics.
According to both Schwartz and Jacob Hacker — director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, under whose auspices the Rudd Center operates — academic centers cannot be isolated from the larger university community if they want to do their work well.
“Though Rudd worked closely with a number of Yale scholars, the community of researchers was neither dense enough nor engaged enough with Rudd’s work to sustain the highly productive interchange between center and university that fuels high-quality, influential research,” Hacker wrote in a Sunday email.
According to Paul Cleary, the dean of the Yale School of Public Health, the 2013 departure of Rudd Center founder Kelly Brownell left a “big gap” in food policy research at Yale, which has left the Center without a sufficient community of like-minded researchers on campus.
Still, Cleary said the Rudd Center is an important locus for research on food policy and obesity.
“I think it will be a big loss not necessarily for basic research, but for the application of policy research and the translation of research into policy,” he said.
In contrast to Yale, UConn is especially focused on food and obesity policy, said Jeffrey Fisher, director of UConn’s Center for Health Intervention and Prevention, which Rudd will join in January. At UConn, approximately 130 faculty and community member organization partners interested in obesity prevention research are spread out across various academic departments, he said.
While Rudd researchers at Yale worked together in a single building at the top of Science Hill, they will find themselves scattered across different department’s on UConn’s campus, a change that Schwartz thinks will allow the Center to “anchor” itself within the UConn community “in a way that’s just not possible at Yale.”
According to Schwartz and UConn Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis, the Yale administration has been nothing but cooperative in the moving process. Schwartz said that she let University President Salovey know about the potential move back in January when talks were just beginning, and he was supportive from the start.
“The Provost’s office has been incredibly helpful,” Schwartz said. “Physically moving everything is a huge administrative job. It’s been a production. The Provost’s office said ‘we want this to be a smooth transition,’ and that’s exactly what’s happened. We’re leaving Yale on really good terms. We were all trained here — there’s a huge amount of affection and gratitude.”
The move to UConn’s new Hartford campus, which will likely begin offering classes in fall 2017, also places Rudd in the state capital, where the Center will be neighbors not only with legislators, but with state government agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Public Health. The proximity to the state’s policy hub will help them to fulfill the policy advocacy part of their mission, wrote Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center, in a Saturday email.
Association with a public, land-grant university has added financial perks, Sally Reis, UConn vice provost for academic affairs, said. The Center will now qualify for certain grants from the United States Department of Agriculture that it was ineligible for while at Yale. A number of grants are in the process of being transferred from Yale to UConn, Reis added.
Talks about moving began last January, when Schwartz spoke at a University of Connecticut health colloquium. At the event, Fisher expressed interest in having the Rudd Center join CHIP. Talks continued, and, according to Rigoberto Lopez, director of the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy at UConn, the plans were finalized this past summer.
While the Center will no longer have a physical presence at Yale, Hacker has no doubt that Rudd and Yale will continue to work together.
“I think that the move could open up the possibility of deeper collaborations between UConn and Yale — something that President Salovey has indicated is a priority of his,” Hacker wrote. “It will also facilitate a closer connection between Yale and Connecticut state government.”
The Rudd Center is currently located at 309 Edwards St.