Wednesday, April 21, 1999

plead UH health
school case

Four alumni presidents are
encouraged after talking with
UH officials about the
school's future

By Helen Altonn


Four past presidents of University of Hawaii School of Public Health alumni were encouraged today about the school's future after meeting with UH administrators.

The former alumni presidents had asked for the meeting to try and save the school from a pending loss of accreditation and closure.

William E. Woods, alumni president from 1985 to 1987, said UH President Kenneth Mortimer made a commitment to support the public health master's program.

The form that will take -- whether in a separate school, as it is now, or in a department in another school -- still isn't known, he said.

He said they discussed various options, and that some proposals to maintain the school with the alumni's support will be presented to Mortimer and the UH Board of Regents.

He said there appears to be "a lot of miscommunication or no communication by the people who are going to decide the fate of the school."

The alumni as school supporters perhaps "can bridge the gap," he said.

The other past presidents at the hour-long meeting were Bettye Jo Harris, Lance Segawa and Gwendolyn Costello.

Woods said the group presented more than 200 letters to the administrators from alumni around the world urging support for the school.

"We think there are solutions that are going to be put on the table that will support the school," he said.

The alumni said they recognized the university is dealing with serious budgetary and staffing problems. The public health school has had to limit students to meet accreditation guidelines because it couldn't maintain a required student-faculty ratio, Woods said.

Harris said it is important to maintain the school rather than reduce it to a department in another school "to lend credence of professionalism and to be competitive in the international market."

The school was established as a department in 1962 and became an accredited school of public health in 1965. In 1997 it had the university's third largest graduate degree program, after education and business.

But when Jerrold Michael retired as dean in 1992 after 20 years, the school began to decline without support from the UH administration. He was the last permanent dean.

The late Carol Eastman, who was UH senior vice president and executive vice chancellor, said in 1995 the university lacked resources to maintain public health as a separate school.

She said the administration was looking at ways to restructure it and preserve the quality of programs, perhaps by making it a department.

The school was given probationary accreditation in 1997 because the accreditation committee felt after talking to Mortimer that the school didn't have his support.

The committee's opinion wasn't changed during a site visit in March.

In a preliminary report, it said: "Prolonged neglect of the school and the unwillingness to invest even minimal resources in rebuilding may well seal the fate of the school in the absence of external intervening forces ... which are largely political in nature."

While advocating preservation and possible privatization of the UH medical school, Gov. Ben Cayetano has been quiet on the issue of the public health school, leaving that to the Board of Regents.

Woods said some regents have attempted to put the issue on the board's agenda for a meeting tomorrow "but it has been thwarted by the administration."

State Health Director Bruce Anderson, a graduate of the school, has said both the public health and medical schools are vital to the state's development as an Asian-Pacific health center.

He has been working with the school's interim dean, Bill Wood, on an agreement to provide some faculty support.

Graduate Nina McCoy said she studied at the school "because it is in Hawaii, part way to the Asia where I knew I would someday return to work in public health ... and because I could study Vietnamese at the UH.

McCoy is a former professor at the school and past associate director of the Kalihi-Palama Health Center. She now is Australian Red Cross technical advisor to the Vietnamese Red Cross HIV/AIDS Prevention Program. She is the first American chosen as a delegate of the Australian Red Cross.

"I cannot imagine trying to explain that the university refused to support the school from which I graduated, so it no longer exists," she said.

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