Thursday, May 27, 1999

UH school’s plight
attracts high notice

The executive director of the
accrediting body for the nation's
public health schools
isn't surprised

By Helen Altonn


The executive director of the accrediting body for the nation's public health schools today said a massive showing of support for the University of Hawaii's threatened school isn't surprising.

The UH School of Public Health has a special niche, Patricia P. Evans said in a telephone interview from her Council on Education for Public Health office in Washington, D.C.

"It serves a role no other public health school does in the nation," she said. "It serves a role in the Pacific Basin. So the outpouring of support is not surprising at all. If I were on the receiving end, I would have to take notice."

The school, which has been on probation, faces loss of accreditation next month unless it can show improvement in its resources.

Public health graduates and supporters worldwide have written letters urging that the school be saved. Some students and professors began a week-long hunger strike Monday in front of the administration building on the Manoa Campus to demonstrate their commitment to the school.

Yet there has been no response from the UH administration, the school's interim dean, Bill Wood, said today. He said a proposed agreement with the state Department of Health to augment the school's faculty and student resources still hasn't been signed by UH President Kenneth Mortimer.

Meanwhile, Wood said, the school has suffered another blow. Mortimer has issued a memo stopping admissions to the doctorate of public health program in the fall "on the basis that we don't have enough resources -- something he controls ..." Wood said.

"We see that as a very political decision," he said, pointing out that the school's fate will be determined by accreditation "and now he's stopped the doctorate program which is required for accreditation."

Two students recently received doctoral degrees and 26 others are in various stages of the doctoral program, he said. "We're told we're to help them complete degrees. If the president feels we don't have sufficient resources to bring students in, how do we have sufficient resources to make sure they complete their degrees?"

Because of the university's critical financial problems, Mortimer has said he favors making public health education a program in the medical school.

"It could apply to be accredited as a program, but ... it has waited too long to do this without some hiatus in its accredited status," Evans said. It takes at least 18 months for a review process.

She said she can't speculate on the council's decision regarding the school's accreditation, but a doctoral program is essential.

Wood will meet next Thursday with the accreditation council in Louisville, Ky., to provide an update on the school's status.

"The bottom line is, if I go in with nothing, that's probably what I will come out with," he said.

Evans said signing of the agreement between the school and the Health Department is "sort of key approval, I would think. The last minute is fast-approaching."

UH Vice President Dean Smith called her to ask some questions about the accreditation process, Evans said. "I think he was trying to fact-find about our decision options and requirements."

If there are no changes in the situation, she said, the decision will be based on recommendations in a site visit report.

After visiting in March, the accreditation team reported: "The 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."

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