The CUNY School of Public Health will be restructured as a unified graduate school, a move that will bring together its resources, finances, faculty and governance so that it will become a leading public health and health policy institution, under a resolution approved Nov. 23 by the University’s Board of Trustees.
The resolution, passed Nov. 23 at the Trustees’ regular monthly meeting, calls for a transition from the school’s existing consortial model, including five CUNY administrative units, to a unified graduate school. It will be renamed the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.
The school, under the auspices of the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, will administer all master’s and doctoral degrees in public health, and operate as do other CUNY professional schools such as the CUNY School of Journalism and CUNY School of Law.
Chairperson Benno Schmidt said, “I want to especially thank Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Vita Rabinowitz and all of the college presidents who were involved with the current consortial model and for their cooperation during this transition period. This restructuring is an essential step forward in order to assure the well-being and enhancement of the school. It will allow the institution to flourish in the broader marketplace of public health graduate schools and to serve the people of the State and City with great distinction. ”
Organizations and experts lauded the restructuring. “The Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health (ASPPH) supports the CUNY SPH’s transition to an independent, university-wide graduate school of public health, under the leadership of a single dean,” said ASPPH President Harrison Spencer, MD MPH. “A free-standing school will best serve CUNY students, bolster faculty development and scholarship, address public health workforce needs, and increase opportunities for collaboration across the CUNY system, all of which will make a critical contribution toward population health and health equity.”
“The mission of promoting health equity in an urbanizing world is a strategic objective that is essential to improving health” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “CUNY’s new unified School of Public Health’s commitment and experience is central to achieving that vision. The work the school will accomplish is an important element in realizing APHA’s vision of creating the healthiest nation in one generation.”
“Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is proud to support the City University of New York’s newly consolidated School of Public Health,” said James S. Marks, executive vice president of the Foundation. “Just as the CUNY school is committed to building a healthier, more equitable New York, so too is RWJF committed to building a shared sense of value around health throughout the nation. We believe the school to be a catalyst for change in this generational effort.”
The CUNY Board’s decision to transition the CUNY School of Public Health from a consortial or collaborative model — a structure rare among U.S. public health schools — to a free-standing institution, comes as it seeks its first re-accreditation from the Council on Education for Health (CEPH), a process key to ensuring the value of the school’s degrees.
CEPH issued a five-year accreditation for the school in 2011, but expressed concerns about its highly complex organizational and governance structure, concerns that remained even after governance changes in 2013 to strengthen the authority of the dean’s position. At that time, the school was renamed the CUNY School of Public Health. It is currently one of only two out of 56 CEPH-accredited “collaborative” schools.
The Trustees’ resolution stated: “A unified school is the national standard and is easily recognizable by the public and specifically by prospective students, faculty, donors and other funding sources. It will best serve students by removing multiple operational and logistical challenges, enabling the offering of more innovative advanced courses, and improving access to the full complement of academic and career services.
“This revised structure will facilitate reaccreditation of the CUNY GSPHHP by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). The overwhelming majority of the public health faculty have indicated that a unified school is in the best interest of the University, the School, its faculty and its students,” the resolution stated.
“The CUNY GSPHHP will be in a better position to recruit and retain the faculty, improve upon faculty development and scholarship and achieve consistent standards in all faculty personnel actions. A unified graduate school will benefit CUNY students by providing consistency in admissions and academic standards and permit the elimination of academic and administrative redundancy. Finally, this structure will enable a more efficient and sustainable financial future for the school.”
CUNY has made a sizeable investment in the School of Public Health and its consortial colleges, and under Dean Ayman El-Mohandes’s leadership during the last two years, master’s program enrollment has grown by 17 percent, new research funding has increased by 20 percent, and new faculty and staff have been hired. New initiatives in public health informatics, mental health and immigrant and refugee health, among other specialties, have been launched, positioning the school to become a premier resource in applied population health research, health promoting policy and other areas.
University Provost Vita Rabinowitz said the structural changes are needed in order for the school to realize its “full potential,” and likely be re-accredited by CEPH, which considers a clear chain of authority at a school critical to re-accreditation for five to seven years. The provost also said that faculty have expressed concern about “the multiple operational and logistical challenges that students face” under the consortial arrangement, including different admissions criteria for similar degree programs and duplicative master’s programs on the different campuses. “It is difficult for students to network and feel part of a cohesive academic community,” she added. Faculty also have had the challenge of coordinating their roles and responsibilities at their home campuses, “where hiring, tenure and promotion occur.”
“A free-standing CUNY School of Public Health would most closely resemble existing, successful schools of public health throughout the nation and is most likely to achieve the galvanizing vision behind the formation of the school. It would better attract and support strong faculty and students, would more clearly benefit other academic units, and would provide the accountability, flexibility and governance most likely to fulfill CEPH requirements,” she said.
The Trustees’ resolution said that the unified CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy “will administer all master’s level and doctoral degree programs” and remain a unit of the Graduate School and University Center, which will have “the degree granting authority for all graduate degrees.” The unified school will be encouraged to collaborate with CUNY colleges on joint degree programs between public health and other disciplines.
“Arrangements will be made to allow continuing students at current consortial colleges to compete their degrees without significant disruption,” the resolution stated. It added that all undergraduate public health programs “will seek independent CEPH accreditation at the programmatic level.”
Dean El-Mohandes said: “The unified Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, situated in the heart of Harlem, promises to consolidate its resources in the service of communities with the greatest health needs in New York City, and train the next generation of public health leaders dedicated to serving these communities.”