From the Dean: The Power of this Place

From the Dean: The Power of this Place

This issue's theme, "The Power of Place," evokes any number of connotations and indeed contemplation. As I conclude my term as dean, I trust you will permit me the indulgence of devoting this, my final column, to ruminations on the one place we all share, the School of Public Health.

As a physical place, part of the school—part of SPH I—has resided in its current location since the school's inception, with the entirety of the school's acreage unchanged since the late 1960s. Yet only our most recent degree recipients would recognize the structures that occupy those grounds as familiar and integral to their experiences as students here. We have undergone a physical metamorphosis, a truly remarkable one that, in my judgment, has transformed this place from a superb school in spite of its facilities to one that is even greater today because of them. Arguably we have the most attractive and functional spaces of any school of public health in the country (a condition well noted by the competition).

But SPH the place is not the current physical presence. Nor was it ever. Rather it is the magical admixture of a faculty who are simultaneously brilliant, collaborative, and friendly, a student body who combine intellectual depth with profound social commitment, a talented and dedicated staff who care deeply about the ambitions and achievements of their school (and, yes, they do consider SPH their school; they're right; it is), the many friends who help sustain this institution in countless ways, and last, but decidedly not least, a group of alumni who truly embody the University of Michigan's claim to be leaders and best. (Is it a coincidence that the deans of Harvard and the University of North Carolina, two of the top three ranked SPHs in the nation, are graduates of UM SPH?) Ultimately, it is you, our graduates, who make the University of Michigan School of Public Health such an exceptional place. It is your accomplishments, your leadership, your public health dynamism that ensure that UM SPH remains at the pinnacle of public health education.

Perhaps there is an irony (but perhaps not) that the members of the UM SPH community who are physically here least long—you—contribute so centrally to making the place so special for the members who are here the longest, namely the faculty and staff. We thank you for that.

Place also connotes position, as in one's professional place in the world. During the past five-and-a-half years I have been privileged to serve as dean, a position that has afforded me a breadth and depth of understanding of what makes this place—SPH—tick. I have always appreciated, broadly, the achievements of our graduates and the intellectual and substantive breadth of what we do here on a daily basis. But I had to become dean to really begin to understand the import of the contributions that you, our graduates, make to bettering our world, and the breathaking intellectual excitement of what transpires here across and among the broadest diversity of disciplines on a daily basis.

The phrase is hackneyed because it embodies a fundamental truth: Home is where the heart is. My heart is in SPH, a place with the power to give me simultaneously the best of faculty and staff colleagues, students from whom I have learned far more than they have from me, graduates with whom I love to reconnect, and, yes, love itself, for SPH is where I met my best friend and wife of 33 years, Pat (and where our older son met his wife, Stephanie). So ultimately, place is people.

I thank all of you for giving me the great privilege of calling UM SPH my place, my home. While I step down as dean at the end of December, I look forward to working with the next generation of students in my career-long role of professor. My goal—your goal, our shared goal—is to make sure that at the end of the day, they call SPH their place too.

-Kenneth E. Warner

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.