Transitions

Yesterday, I sat on the stage with other deans and UNC leaders as more than 2,400 students received their degrees in the Dean Smith Center. Many of them were from the School of Public Health. We are proud of all these students who ranged from undergraduates to master’s degree students to those awarded doctorates. Professor Hodding Carter talked about service and its importance in the 21st century. He quoted from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I grew up on that quote. Nowhere in the University can this adage be represented more fully than in the School of Public Health. I have worked in both public and private institutions. We need both, but I really believe in public institutions and their accountability. Every day our faculty, staff and students serve the U.S. and the global world in so many ways. That’s part of the reason why I am here.

One of our faculty members wrote to me and asked why I used sports metaphors in explaining the rationale behind Monday Morning. No one who knows me would call me a rabid sports fan. I am a converted Tar Heel enthusiast and listen to most football and basketball games on the radio while working if I don’t make the games. What I like especially are the radio programs later in the week when the coach dissects the game. I am always impressed that the coaches are as critical of their own teams and plays as the opponents. They get better by introspection and positive self-criticism. Of course, it is played out in a public arena that we usually avoid. But still, wouldn’t we get better and better if we critiqued our performance regularly? It’s the end of the term. Have we given our students what they need? We are moving toward a schoolwide course evaluation system, and many courses participated last term. We will get some insights into students’ impressions. Students are our most important customers, and I want each of them to feel they made the right decisions in coming to UNC School of Public Health.

Last week, Professor Dan Okun died. Dan was a great environmental engineer who worked in 89 countries in his 90 years. He was transcendently global and passionately local. He helped to create a rational water system for Orange County and advised counties across the U.S. on their water resources. He showed that one can do superb academic work and produce useful products and services – theory to practice. Dan was so passionate about what he did that he had no problem convincing me I had to read a highly technical article on dual water systems. We will miss him!

We had the first meeting of our exciting Acceleration Advisory Committee which is guiding the various Gillings initiatives. It is a superb group, headed by Dr. Dennis and Joan Gillings. I’ll tell you more about it later.

I have been thinking a lot about how the School of Public Health can work with others in the state to improve health care, especially for disadvantaged people. More about that later, too.

Best wishes,
Barbara

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