Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

Months after its search for a new dean began, leadership is on the horizon for the Yale School of Public Health.

After the alleged ouster of former YSPH dean Sten Vermund last June, the search for a new dean is entering its final stages. According to Vermund, finalists’ names have been selected by a search committee and sent to the University President Peter Salovey, and finalists have likely visited campus to meet with university leaders.

The search advisory committee — coordinated through the office of the president and chaired by Melinda Irwin, associate dean of research and professor of epidemiology  — was aided by the search firm Isaacson Miller. In the meantime, the school has been helmed by interim Dean Melinda Pettigrew, former Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

“The search process is ongoing, and I am grateful for the thoughtful work of the search advisory committee and input from YSPH faculty, students, staff, and alumni—as well as suggestions from other members of the [University],” Salovey wrote to the News. “I look forward to updating the Yale community at the conclusion of the search.”

According to Vermund, Irwin announced at a YSPH faculty meeting last fall that a small group of finalists had been chosen and provided to the President for selection. As a part of the selection process, the President would likely have brought the finalists to campus to meet with “selected individuals” from across the University, he noted.

Typically, Vermund said, each finalist would meet with “at least a subset” of the search committee, alongside university leaders, to provide counsel. According to Vermund, these may include the health sciences deans, SOM and YSE deans and content area experts: members of the faculty of arts and sciences across the University who maintain collaborations with the YSPH.

“The President can pick almost any of these people and get strong counsel.” Vermund told the News. “Often, the president picks people [for whom] he has a special sense of their judgment of character and competence. So that would give him the counsel he’s looking for.”

By this point, Vermund added, after seeking feedback, Salovey would have likely made his decision and the University has presumably begun negotiations with the individual.

Vermund noted that, in the school’s 108 year history, it has never had a dean who is not a white man. He anticipates that the search process will factor diversity and equity into account, while also looking for a capable academic leader who “has the confidence” of the president, provost and the leaders of Yale’s other graduate and professional schools.

“The School needs to think about its identity – what it can do well – and where it must innovate to achieve its goals,”  Harlan Krumholz, professor of investigative medicine and public health, told the News. “And it needs to think about how it can connect with the immense strengths of the entire University to best achieve its mission.”

But even Vermund — the former dean whose replacement is being sought — remains unaware about the specifics of the search. Even though Irwin noted that the search is “going well,” the deliberation over a new dean has been a “closed process,” according to Vermund, without public updates.

The News reached out to several YSPH faculty members who remained unaware of the most recent status of the search or the finalists being considered. According to Vermund, those involved are “sworn to secrecy.”

“When they’re looking for new leadership, they’d like a fresh look,” Vermund told the News. “That’s why the search committee was formed. And that’s why this is done, essentially, with a degree of confidentiality to make … the candidates for the position … completely comfortable.”

Vermund added that the confidentiality surrounding the search process plays a few roles. First, it prevents misinformation in the event that a candidate withdraws during the search or wage-benefit negotiations with a specific candidate fall through.

Secondly, closed processes avoid compromising candidates in their home institutions: if a public health leader at another institution is widely known to be seeking the Yale deanship, it could raise questions about the candidates’ loyalty and commitment to their home institution, especially if they opt to remain in their current position.

According to Vermund, public knowledge could become a “morale issue” that “generates a lot of angst and anxiety and uncertainty” and discourages qualified candidates from participating in the search.

When asked whether she intends to seek the formal deanship, however, Pettigrew wrote to the News that her current “focus was on her duties as Interim Dean of YSPH.”

Vermund lauded Pettigrew as an “immensely capable individual” with an “encyclopedic knowledge of the school.”

“When I stepped down and she stepped up, I thought I’d be giving her all sorts of advice,” Vermund said, “But she didn’t really need that much, so I think that’s very reassuring to the President and the Provost that they have a very, very capable interim dean.”

The search for a new dean is occurring in tandem with YSPH’s separation from YSM and transition into an independent professional school. According to Vermund, this transition — aided by a fundraising campaign seeking $50 million with a matching incentive enhancement from the University — would occur during the new dean’s tenure. As a result, the search committee, he said, would seek candidates both qualified to be the head of an independent school and capable of leading YSPH through its transition.

Regardless of who the President selects to facilitate that shift, Krumholz is “hopeful” that an appropriate candidate will be chosen. He envisions the new dean as a role model: someone who can motivate their peers with a commitment to improving public health.

“I’d like to see someone who can bring out the best in others, inspire scholarship and action, attract talent, honor the importance of collaboration with communities, promote health equity, and measure success by tangible impact on people’s lives,” Krumholz wrote to the News.

The Yale School of Public Health was founded in 1915.

Giri Viswanathan was a Science and Technology Editor for the News. Previously, he served as a Photography Editor while covering the School of Public Health for the SciTech Desk. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Giri is a junior in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs with a certificate in Global Health Studies.