School of Public Health is one of the most academically diverse of all
the Harvard graduate faculties. In contrast to faculties structured around
disciplines, professions, skills, or sectors (all of which are emphasized
at our School), HSPH ultimately is organized around problems affecting
the public’s health. Our vision has been to encompass
a continuum of scientific disciplines and programs, from fundamental
science to application locally and globally. While creating disciplinary
excellence, we have long emphasized multidisciplinary and interdepartmental
approaches to training leaders and attacking major health threats to
populations worldwide, from obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease
to HIV/AIDS and emerging infectious and environmental threats.
Underlying science planning for Allston is a belief that efforts to find solutions to the “big problems” will require collaboration among people from many disciplines, schools, and Harvard-affiliated hospitals. While perhaps novel for the University at large, this is not a new model for us. Our faculty’s expertise ranges from molecular genetics to mathematical modeling, from measuring environmental exposures to child development, from the health and economic advancement of developing-world countries to U.S. health care reform. That this remarkable diversity of backgrounds and expertise has been brought to bear on multidisciplinary approaches to complex problems relating to health is what makes HSPH such a special and rewarding place for faculty and students.
While the Allston planning process is moving forward, many uncertainties remain. We all recognize that final decisions on whether HSPH will have a key role in Allston will be the responsibility of our new University leadership and the Harvard Corporation. In this context, it is gratifying that, as Harvard University President and Lincoln Professor of History Drew Faust has made clear, Allston planning is a major priority for her administration.
Opportunities and Challenges
It would be wonderful for us if there were new programs in Allston involving the human genome, bioengineering, and other cutting-edge science. But perhaps the most exciting would be the opportunity to teach and inspire Harvard undergraduates to think about problems of public health nationally and globally. To engage with these students would be an exciting extension of our faculty’s commitment to education at all levels; in turn, our faculty could open new worlds to some of the brightest young people on the planet.
Allston offers HSPH the unique opportunity to bring together a geographically dispersed faculty working in multiple, scattered facilities. Together we could begin to create a real campus, in a real community in one centralized location, to serve both the future institutional needs of the School and the educational needs of its students. The Allston Master Plan recently filed with the City of Boston includes the Harvard School of Public Health as one of the professional schools to be located in Allston along with the Graduate School of Education at the center of the Allston plan. At HSPH, faculty committees are working hard on developing the best strategy for the School to take advantage of a move to Allston, while also retaining our longstanding relationships with the hospitals in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area.
To the question, “Why would it be appropriate for the School of Public Health to occupy a key place in Allston?” the simple answer is that its unique interdisciplinary character and mission make it an ideal “connector.” I would be hard-pressed to improve upon the case made by former University President Larry Summers: “I have asked the community to explore and think about the relocation of the public health school and many of its primary activities to the Allston campus, where it will occupy a role at the center of the University. I have suggested that as an important commitment of the University because I am convinced that if we think about what it is that is really important in terms of what the University is going to do in the years ahead, public health is very much at the center of those things.”
Dean Barry R. Bloom
Adapted with permission from an essay originally published in the June 6, 2007, issue of the Harvard Crimson
Photograph, Rick Friedman
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