Friday, June 25, 1999

Public health’s future
discussed at UH forum

By Susan Kreifels


University of Hawaii-Manoa administration officials met for the first time with School of Public Health faculty to ask for help in shaping the public health program since the school lost accreditation this month.

But administrators faced little enthusiasm from faculty members, many of whom believe the university deliberately left them out until it was too late to save the school.

UH Senior Vice President Dean Smith yesterday asked about 30 faculty members to help get a plan ready for Board of Regents approval in time for it to be in place by next June, when the school actually loses its accreditation -- the first in the nation to do so.

Smith and UH President Kenneth Mortimer want to convert the school into an accredited program within the John A. Burns School of Medicine, saying the school is too expensive for the budget-strapped university to maintain.

Smith said UH-Manoa could apply for accreditation of a new program in June. The review process takes about 18 months.

Smith said he would compare the costs of the school and any new program, and would consider both options "assuming all else is equal." But he made it clear that he "feels a need to move on" rather than try to preserve the school.

Smith also said he hoped to keep all current staff through any changes.

But faculty members asked what would happen if students stopped applying for public health studies in the face of the accreditation loss. Smith didn't have an answer.

Another concern is losing a Maternal and Child Health grant, which this year amounts to $325,000. The school has received one of the 13 five-year contracts for the last 34 years.

Gigliola Baruffi, head of the program, said the money only goes to accredited public-health schools and is very competitive -- Columbia University and San Diego State University both lost out the last time around.

Baruffi said there's discussion about allowing public health programs within medical schools to apply, but that will make the grants even more competitive.

Baruffi said faculty unhappiness "goes beyond fears of losing our jobs."

"It's the very deep hurt in destroying public health, the essence of training public health (professionals). This is the basis of our anxiety and pain and demoralization," he said.

The faculty also is worried about students, particularly doctoral candidates and part-time students who won't finish studies for their degrees before the school loses accreditation.

Smith quoted reports saying $700,000 is needed to keep the school operating, a figure some faculty members dispute.

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