Fiscal Concerns Accompany Good News at Yale School of Public Health

Connecticut by the Numbers

The Yale School of Public Health has been on a roll in recent months, even as it was encountering a noisy bump in the road.

First, the good news.  The school announced that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be the 2021 commencement speaker.  Just prior to that announcement, the Biden-Harris Transition team tapped Marcella Nunez-Smith, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, to be co-chair of the Coronavirus Task Force for the incoming administration.  And this week Nunez-Smith was named by the incoming admiration to lead a new task force aimed at reducing disparities in response, care and treatment for COVID-19.

Earlier this year, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont tapped Albert Ko, Department Chair and Professor of Epidemiology and of Medicine at the School to serve as co-chair of the state’s Reopen Connecticut committee.

In early November, Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research announced it had designated over 30 independent labs across 19 U.S. states to perform the university-developed SalivaDirect™ COVID-19 test. The national rollout was spearheaded by Anne Wyllie, associate research scientist in epidemiology, who developed SalivaDirect™ alongside Nathan Grubaugh, assistant professor in epidemiology, both at the Yale School of Public Health.

Now, the other news.  At nearly the same time, the Yale Daily News, the nation’s oldest college daily newspaper, reported that in the last 12 years, the School of Public Health has balanced its budget once, which observers attribute to the lack of support from the University. Aside from 2018, the News reported, it has been in a deficit every year. This year is the worst, Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund told the News, with the school being in a “substantial deficit.”

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In response, a group of Yale faculty and alumni have urged the university’s administration to increase the investment in the School, which is Connecticut’s only school of public health.

“This is the most important and opportune moment in modern history for Yale to invest in its public health school,” the letter reads, according to the Yale Daily News. “Given its place among great global universities, in fact, Yale has an ethical obligation to urgently take the measures needed to move its public health school into the top ranks of public health schools globally.” The open letter was co-authored by professor of epidemiology Gregg Gonsalves ’11 and former World Bank executive Richard Skolnik ’72, the News reported, and it has attracted scores of signatures of faculty and alumni. 

“It’s time to stop the excuses,” Gonsalves bluntly stated. “Yale will say it has other priorities. Well, in a pandemic, which is not our first and won’t be our last in the US, is research on public health not critical?”

According to the News, a range of factors have played into the ongoing fiscal challenges for the School,  including tenuous grant funding and tuition dollars, and a less than generous endowment.

“The school’s finances are shaky at best,” Public Health professor A. David Paltiel told the News. “If the past six months have not convinced academic leaders across this country that schools of public health are of vital importance to national health, national security, to the economy, then nothing will convince us,” added Cary Gross, a professor at the School of Medicine with an appointment at the School of Public Health.

While the internal debate goes on, most of the headlines highlighting the School of Public Health remain glowingly positive.

Nunez-Smith has co-chaired the Transition Advisory Board with two individuals who also have Yale pedigree - Dr. Vivek Murthy ’03 M.B.A. ’03 M.D., a former U.S. surgeon general, and Dr. David Kessler, a former dean of Yale School of Medicine and past commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Commented Dr. Nancy J. Brown, Yale’s Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine in the Yale News:  “Yale faculty and alumni have been working diligently to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and we are delighted that the three co-leaders of the task force, all with ties to Yale, are poised to have an even greater impact.”

On Nunez-Smith’s appointment to a high ranking post in the administration this week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said “I am proud to see Yale School of Medicine’s own Dr. Nunez-Smith in a leadership role on the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Equity Task Force. Staffing this new task force with such an impressive slate of experts shows the Biden Administration’s commitment to tackling health disparities that have gone unaddressed for far too long.”

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