The new dean of the Yale School of Public Health, Sten Vermund, has said that he hopes to improve the School through attracting more students from the Northeast region, as well as fact check statements on public health made by nonexperts in the public sphere.
Last Wednesday, Vermund, formerly a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, replaced Paul Cleary as dean, following the announcement of his appointment last October. In an interview with the News, Vermund said he hopes to focus on course development and outreach from the School in order to make it more competitive on a regional scale.
“Ultimately, we would like to be more competitive and successful on the research side, we would like to be more flexible and more innovative on the teaching side and we would like to think through our service agenda,” Vermund said.
To begin this process, Vermund is embarking on a major curriculum review, he said, in which “no stone will go unturned” in considering the best ways to improve existing degree programs. This effort will involve a new curriculum committee that will be chaired by Melinda Pettigrew GRD ’99, the associate dean for academic affairs at the School, according to Vermund.
He added he especially wants to focus on expanding Cleary’s efforts to encourage more students from the tri-state and New England areas to seek degrees from the School.
“We’re talking about innovating the curriculum to make it much easier for there to be commuting students,” said Vermund. “We have the largest population conglomeration of any urban area in the country on our doorstep.”
Vermund said that many peer institutions across the United States have programs to encourage commuting students, adding that he hopes to learn from these in his future efforts to expand Yale’s reach.
He said that one option is to create a master’s program where all the necessary core courses are in a single semester so that someone can take three to four months off their job and complete the majority of their coursework. Another option is to offer distance or partial-distance learning programs, in which students’ time in New Haven would be limited to approximately one weekend a semester, allowing them to complete the rest of their learning online. The curriculum committee will be looking into different options of this kind in the upcoming months, Vermund confirmed.
One area for improvement structurally is classroom size, Vermund said. He noted that the School of Public Health does not have a large lecture hall and that he plans to partner with the Yale School of Medicine to acquire one. He added that renovations at 47 College St. should provide more mid-size classroom space.
In addition to curricular and structural changes, Vermund said he hopes to provide documentation of facts to counter opinions expressed by nonscientists and the government concerning public health. He added that the denial of climate change by Scott Pruitt — Trump’s appointee for head of the Environmental Protection Agency — is particularly concerning. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Association, however, the evidence for climate change is unequivocal.
“We are in an excellent position perhaps to work with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies to provide data and evidence and information that could be readily available that can demonstrate through scientific evidence that [climate change denial] is a major public health concern,” Vermund said.
Vermund and Cleary both said they believe that the transition of leadership has been smooth. Cleary said he will stay on at the Yale School of Public Health, where he will direct the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, as well as continue to work with other major centers and programs in the School. He also plans to start teaching again soon, he added. Up until February, Cleary had been partnering with Vermund to inform him about the important changes that will affect his future time as dean.
“Until [Vermund] starts, I have been handling all routine matters but consulting with him on policy issues and/or decisions that have broader implication to ensure that we are acting in a way that will support his tenure as dean,” said Cleary.
Vermund added that as dean, he will meet with Cleary weekly.
Cleary served as dean of the School of Public Health for nine years.