Yale Daily News

The School of Public Health started the 2022 school year under the leadership of Interim Dean Melinda Pettigrew, who was previously the deputy dean, as the search for a new dean for the institution continues.

Outgoing Dean Sten Vermund’s term concluded June 30, after he was allegedly pushed out of his role last October. While the Office of the President and the search advisory committee work to find a replacement, Pettigrew will oversee the School for the foreseeable future. 

“As Interim Dean, I will strive to create and sustain an environment where our faculty, staff and students feel part of a community and are empowered to discover, innovate and effect change,” Pettigrew said in a message sent to the School of Public Health community over the summer.

Salovey is continuing to look for Vermund’s replacement with the help of a search committee chaired by Associate Dean of Research Melinda Irwin. 

Salovey has also enlisted the help of the search firm Isaacson Miller, which is helping to look for candidates for the position. 

“The search advisory committee has been focused on identifying candidates to lead YSPH,” Salovey wrote in an email to the News. “Members of the committee have been in contact with YSPH faculty, students, staff and alumni to gather recommendations on the qualities and qualifications that should be considered.”

According to Vermund, an outgoing dean would typically be asked to stay in their position until a new dean arrives. 

However, Vermund was not asked to remain in his position past the end of his term and instead stepped down without a replacement. 

“I think the logic was that if everybody knows that I’m leaving, it may be not so good to have a lame duck, have someone who’s not particularly empowered because they won’t be living with the decisions that they make,” Vermund said.

Vermund added that Pettigrew previously served as deputy dean of the School of Public Health and is set to return to that position after a new dean has been chosen, providing some continuity in leadership. 

“Professor Pettigrew has been at the School for more than 20 years, and she is exceedingly knowledgeable about the details of the School,” Vermund said. 

In addition to Pettigrew’s experience as deputy dean, Vermund pointed to her previous experience as the senior associate dean for academic affairs. In her previous position, she was responsible for the school’s curriculum and got to know the faculty, departments and programs. Vermund also pointed to Pettigrew’s significant qualifications in being supported by the NIH as an active investigator.

This future changeover in leadership will occur while the School of Public Health prepares to transition to an independent school, a change that was announced in February

According to Vermund, the biggest implications of the transition will be financial, as the School will no longer be financially tied to the School of Medicine. Without the financial lifeline of the medical school, Vermund says it will be important to find new sources of revenue and to be more frugal with resources. 

“The committee is taking into consideration Yale’s major investment in YSPH and the fact that it will transition into an independent school under the guidance of the next dean,” Salovey told the News in an email.

Salovey also noted that the committee has benefited from submissions to an online webform, which is open to anybody who would like to give input on the qualifications of the new dean or to propose specific candidates.

Vermund speculated that the announcement of a new dean may coincide with the School of Public Health transitioning to an independent school. He suggested the beginning of the 2023-24 school year as a plausible time for this announcement but emphasized that he has no formal knowledge of when the transition would actually take place.

Vermund also noted that it will likely take several months to fully separate the finances of the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. Although Brown, Pettigrew and Strobel are already planning ahead, he said that many of the School of Public Health’s final decisions may be made once the new dean arrives.

“The medical school was always very rigorous with us, trying to keep us lean and mean and making sure that we weren’t in a substantial deficit, but it wasn’t uncommon for us at the end of a given year to have a deficit, and the medical school would help us,” Vermund said. 

Beyond the financial changes, the School will also have more autonomy once it becomes independent. 

Vermund explained that the School of Public Health dean currently has medical school departmental chair authority, so decisions such as promotions, grants and sabbaticals must be approved by the School of Medicine. Once the SPH becomes independent, the new dean will have authority more similar to those at other Yale graduate schools.

“I’ve been told by peer deans that they never understood why Yale [School of Public Health] was not a full school,” Vermund said. “So I think that discounted us a bit in our community, and it’s plausible that we will do more favorably in national rankings.”

Although Vermund does not know which individuals are being considered for the position, conversations with the search committee have assured him that there are several highly qualified candidates.

The School of Public Health was founded in 1915.