Distinguished (professors), diversity, diets and deficit

Yes, these topics are connected. Last week, I attended events and lectures related to all four topics.

Wednesday night, I was at a reception to honor new distinguished professors. Among them was our W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor Barry Popkin, PhD, professor of nutrition. Barry has probably studied and influenced food choices and diets in more countries than anyone in the world.

Thursday was a triple decker day. At noon, I spoke at the wrap-up meeting of our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, led by Rumay Alexander, EdD, RN, and Bryan Weiner, PhD, who also spoke. We had charged the DITF with identifying barriers to achieve greater diversity and inclusion in the School. Then, we asked them to propose strategies to overcome them and put us on the road to even greater diversity and inclusion. It’s a great group of people who represent positions, departments and units across the SPH. The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force recommended 13 different strategies, including changes in organization, culture, teaching and other areas. I told the task force that we cannot do everything they proposed at once. But we will begin to implement some recommendations this fiscal year. Among the most important is sharing best practices across the School. Academics are smart. But we have a tendency to invent solutions in every department rather than sharing across departments (It’s not just an issue in our School.). This process is too inefficient. We must find ways to accelerate progress. The DITF report is an important milestone. We are going to use it to speed diversity and inclusion here.

Later, I introduced the remarkable Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, who gave the Hutchins Lecture at the Center for the Study of the American South.  Alice’s interesting lecture was titled, Food in the South: Health, Happiness and the Economy.  It exemplified her wide-ranging interests and talents. Alice and her colleagues have been among the most visionary in the U.S. in understanding the effect of the economy on food choices and diets. Their appreciation of sustainability and local foods is inspiring. As the Daily Tar Heel wrote of Alice, “Ammerman is leading a food movement from her kitchen and her office. She has a big goal: building a new food system in North Carolina focused on local farmers and communities.”
I dashed out in time to get a seat in back of Gerrard Hall to hear Erskine Bowles give the Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Lecture. President Emeritus Bowles surely is one of the most charismatic, exuberant speakers in the world. He talked drolly about his experiences in Washington during the Clinton administration and more recently, running President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He told us soberly that if this country doesn’t shrink the deficit dramatically, we are going to become a second rate power. Taxes alone won’t do it; nor will budget cutting. We’ve got to control health care and military spending and a lot more. We resonated with his comments, “We’re running out of money. We’ve got to start thinking.” Also, “We live in a world of limited resources, and that means setting priorities.”

Since we cannot run deficits in our School, we’ve lived with President Bowles’ maxims for the last few years. I admire him for not making the issues about political party but about solving problems. That’s the only sensible strategy. Everyone was buzzing as we left the room for the warm September evening outside.

Bowles’ lecture reminded me what a fascinating, stimulating place this is and how central UNC is to solving the world’s greatest challenges, as Chancellor Thorp has said.

As we move past the anniversary of September 11th, solving the world’s greatest challenges should be our true north. Happy Monday. Barbara.

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