Both of us are graduates of Yale College (BC ’72 and BK ’11). We have worked in public health in the United States and around the world for most of our careers, spanning over seven decades when taken together. We are proud Yalies and will be forever grateful to Yale for its key role in our education. Yet we are profoundly dismayed by Yale’s failure to adequately support the Yale School of Public Health during the greatest global health threat since 1918.
Although it is one of the smallest schools of public health in the United States, researchers at YSPH have had an outsized impact on the response to the pandemic. This has included work on campus and in New Haven, guiding the state of Connecticut’s efforts and providing national leadership. It has also included the development of an important approach to testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. At the same time, YSPH has produced an array of research that has been essential in understanding the course of the pandemic in the United States. The media also regularly consults YSPH faculty for their expertise and advice on addressing COVID-19.
While the YSPH response to the pandemic has been widely recognized outside of Yale, the University has completely failed to adequately support the school. Yale only covers 13 percent of operating expenses out of the central endowment, compared to an average of about 40 percent for all the other 13 schools, as seen on page 6 in the FY 2020 Budget Book. This is especially important because a small school like YSPH, with a limited student body and no clinical income from patient care, cannot rely on tuition to keep it fiscally safe and sound. Moreover, when Yale talks about its next big investment, YSPH never makes the list.
Many universities have done much better than Yale to support their public health schools. Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Emory, The George Washington University and public universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have made transformational investments in their schools of public health. In doing so, they have recognized the importance of public health research as a scholarly enterprise and a cornerstone of their universities’ missions. These schools have built up their public health programs across the board, from basic lab-based research, to epidemiology, to statistics and modeling, all the way to social and behavioral sciences in work around the globe. They understand the richness of public health research and its role in the world today.
Gaining support like this for YSPH would allow us to build new facilities to replace the main building, constructed when Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and to bring the whole school together again in one place: to endow professorships to retain and recruit talented faculty, to boost financial aid for masters of public health programs — which do not have public service loan repayment options as is common in other health professional schools — to expand our doctoral programs and finally to create endowed fellowships for graduating students.
Last year, we organized a letter to President Salovey, Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown and the Yale Corporation. The letter asked Yale, at the beginning of the pandemic, to urgently seek a transformational gift for YSPH. It was signed by over 150 alumni of Yale, including young global health leaders like Barbara Bush and Vanessa Kerry, former New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, the former national coordinator for health information technology in the Obama Administration, Farzad Mostashari, several of our own top faculty including Harlan Krumholz at the School of Medicine, Shelley Geballe at the School of Public Health and Mike Wishnie at the Law School, epidemiologist and mathematical modeler Marc Lipsitch at Harvard, film director Ira Sachs and many more from all aspects of public life.
Yale has the resources and contacts to quickly arrange a transformative investment in YSPH — if it wishes to do so. Yet Yale’s only response to the letter above was a polite acknowledgement and rote assurances that public health is a priority at the University.
As Yale College graduates, we will continue to do all we can to help Yale see the academic and ethical imperative for a major and immediate investment in the Yale School of Public Health. At the same time, we will urge our classmates to devote their contributions to the University specifically to YSPH. If the University’s leadership and the Yale Corporation remain blind to the importance of YSPH to domestic and global public health efforts, we hope that at least Yale alumni will champion YSPH and honor its historic role in saving lives and pushing back against a once-in-a-century pandemic.