One of the hot topics at PSU is the potential Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)/Portland State University (PSU) joint School of Public Health (SPH). I say ‘hot’ because we are finally seeing years of work develop into a tangible proposal and because of the recent large number of open forums, faculty meetings, Senate committee meetings, and requests for information on the topic. It is great to see such involvement in something so important—it is not every day that PSU contemplates establishment of a new school and to create huge opportunities for the future of the University and our students.
Not a new idea
Conversations about a SPH began in 2007, and are by no means new. My first involvement was in 2010 (almost two years before my July 2012 arrival at PSU) when I was the Vice Chancellor for Academic Strategies for the Oregon University System. At that time, Oregon State University (OSU), OHSU, and PSU were exploring one joint school for the State. Since then, OSU established a school of public health on its own and in 2014 received its Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accreditation.
OHSU and PSU faculty, staff, students and administrators have collectively held well over a hundred meetings assessing the need, feasibility, challenges, and opportunities for a joint school. Those conversations have ranged from small group meetings to large open campus forums. I have provided brief updates to the Faculty Senate over the past few years (found in their minutes).
Strategic partnerships are not new to PSU and OHSU. We have a 21 year history of offering the joint OMPH (Oregon Masters in Public Health); we have many faculty who collaborate on research; and we now co-occupy the Collaborative Life Sciences Building (CLSB) on the south waterfront.
What has been easy?
OHSU and PSU are both strong in the area of public health. The unique strengths they would bring to create a joint school would benefit students, faculty, our community and beyond. PSU already offers a number of the academic programs that will comprise a SPH. The remaining programs will come from OHSU. There is no question that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. In PSU’s case, it will be to take our existing faculty expertise and programs in community health, health promotion, health studies, health management and policy, and health systems and policy, and allow them to grow, be stronger, improve in quality and better serve students.
What’s not been so easy?
It is not easy to bring two universities with differences in structure, funding models, personnel, etc. together in an equity partnership. It is also a challenge to look beyond the immediate present constraints of budgets and imagine a future for PSU that is enhanced by a strong, high quality, nationally-recognized School of Public Health.
Additionally, it is not simple for everyone to understand and appreciate the different lenses and vantage points groups and individuals have on the potential school. Individual faculty and staff wonder what it means for them in their day-to-day work: impact on career and responsibilities. There are department/school level questions about governance, curriculum, budget, and organizational structure. Our Faculty Senate committees (the Faculty Senate Budget Committee and the Educational Policy Committee) are looking at the impact of a new school on existing schools and colleges, viability of a school of public health, and how governance will work. Most recently I addressed some of these in a memo to faculty in the College of Urban and Public Affairs.
Our students and our future
These important issues have been discussed over the past three years and we now know enough to respond to them. There are two questions worth highlighting:
- What does it mean for students for PSU to have a SPH?
- What does it mean for the future of the University?
The gain for students will be depth and breadth of faculty expertise and program choice through our OHSU partnership. The plan would be for our students will graduate from an accredited school of public health with degrees issued in both universities’ names. Their degree will have greater value because of the collaboration and accreditation–as we know, accreditation demonstrates the quality others see in our programs. At present there are only 51 accredited Schools of Public Health in the country. A collaborative school with OHSU would put us at the 25th percentile in size of enrollment based on our current MPH programs.
Where would we be today if our predecessors had not seen the potential of creating new schools and colleges? The College of Urban and Public Affairs (CUPA) is the best example of this. It became its own college in 1998 from a vision that recognized PSU’s strengths at the time and the future significant contributions we could make to our community.
The SPH has the same potential in public health.
We have a lot to gain in creating a SPH, so I ask that you engage in campus conversations about the joint venture. I urge our Faculty Senate to take action on the proposal to establish a joint school before the end of this academic year. Although this is a big step for PSU, it will benefit the entire university in our continued efforts to create a world-class university that serves our students and the needs of our city, region, and state.
We have posted information about the SPH initiative on website currently hosted by OHSU, but soon to migrate to a joint website.