Campus & Community

Bloom to step down as dean of Harvard School of Public Health at close of academic year

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Barry R. Bloom, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health, announced today (Nov. 15) that he will step down from his position as the School’s leader at the end of the current academic year. Bloom became dean of HSPH on Jan. 1, 1999. During a period marked by globalization and profound changes in science and technology, Bloom has led initiatives to keep HSPH at the frontier of scientific discovery and interdisciplinary innovation and to extend its leadership in improving the health of populations around the world.

“For nearly a decade, I have had the enormously rewarding experience of guiding the world’s most dynamic and rigorous public health research and teaching enterprise, and I have seen it enter the 21st century with reinvigorated interdisciplinary research activity, a modernization of its departments, a rethinking of its curriculum, and solid fiscal health,” Bloom said. “We enter now a phase of more intensive planning for an anticipated move to Allston as a central component of the University’s vision for its future. It is clearly desirable and necessary that the School have new leadership to take it into its next phase, so that a new dean can participate both in shaping the plan for the future and in seeing it through to fruition. This seems like the right time for me to indicate my plans to step down and allow another generation of leadership to be engaged.”

Over the next seven months, Bloom plans to focus on firmly establishing initiatives to carry forward strategic priorities that have been developed at the School — new active-learning educational programs and research priorities in the areas of genes and the environment, quantitative genomics, and global health. In a letter to the HSPH community, he expressed appreciation for the privilege of working with “an enormously creative and collegial faculty, a wonderfully exciting and diverse student body, and an extraordinarily dedicated staff.” He thanked his academic and administrative deans for providing “creative energy, advice, and leadership that have made both change and stability possible,” and he expressed his gratitude for the constructive advice and criticism offered by colleagues and friends of the School and for their generous support over the years.

“Barry Bloom has led our School of Public Health with remarkable vision and devotion,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “He has broadened and intensified the School’s international reach as well as its close engagement with some of the world’s most serious health challenges. He has worked to strengthen and integrate the School’s efforts across the sciences and the social sciences, and to pursue creative connections with other parts of Harvard. He has guided important initiatives to plan ambitiously for the School’s academic and physical future, while also building its capacity to attract outstanding students from around the world. He has done all this with a passionate concern for the power of the public health enterprise to improve the lives of people both close to home and abroad.”

From his first days as dean, Bloom announced that financial aid for students would be his top priority for funding. Over the period of his deanship, financial aid to students has increased nearly threefold, to a total of $8.4 million in the current academic year, with substantial support from the University. In his meetings with students, he has been consistently inspired by their experiences, dedication, and potential for leadership — and responsive to their concerns about the need for financial aid and for better student space in the School. In the past year, together with Academic Dean James Ware, he has focused attention on revising the School’s curriculum to include more active learning and case-based teaching, appointing two new associate deans for education and providing new resources for the initiative.

Several significant international projects have been implemented with Bloom’s support and guidance, notably in Africa, India, China, and the Mediterranean region. In 2004, The Cyprus Institute was created, and an agreement between the institute and School was put in place to provide research, education, and training efforts for the environment and public health for the Mediterranean region. In March 2006, Bloom was acknowledged for his key role in developing the concept for the Public Health Foundation of India. Founded to influence public health education, research, and policy, the PHFI aims to establish multiple world-class Indian institutes of public health over time. And this past summer, the HSPH welcomed a delegation of 62 senior health executives from China for a three-week intensive training program in health systems leadership as part of the School’s three-pronged China Initiative, which includes the training program, a University-wide forum, and a series of applied health research projects.

The School’s presence in Africa has expanded to meet the challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to help guide the outpouring of resources to address it. Bloom worked to secure funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the program on AIDS Prevention in Nigeria (APIN), emphasizing the importance of coupling prevention with treatment to address the AIDS crisis. In 2004, in light of its ongoing efforts to help confront HIV/AIDS in Africa, the School was awarded one of the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grants. Working in three countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the School’s PEPFAR project has trained health professionals, strengthened in-country academic medical centers, and built sustainable capacity for treatment, preventive services, and research.

Through faculty retreats and meetings with department chairs, Bloom oversaw the development of a planning matrix that has served as a guide for strategic decisions at the School addressing rapid trends in science, technology, and globalization. He worked to create the new Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, which seeks to focus on biological mechanisms of particular relevance to the most important chronic disease threats to public health and to leverage the School’s outstanding epidemiological research on obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. With the merging of two departments into the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, the School’s efforts in understanding the social determinants of health as well as maternal and child health were strengthened by encompassing a more comprehensive “lifecourse” approach.

With the formation of a new bioinformatics core and a Program on Quantitative Genomics, Bloom supported faculty efforts to bring computational biology and informatics into research in basic science and epidemiology. More recently, he has formed a committee to focus on genes and the environment — bringing together biologists, epidemiologists, environmental scientists, and biostatisticians to integrate knowledge about the genetic and environmental factors crucial to understanding the mechanisms of complex multigenic diseases.

Bloom has presided over the recruitment of outstanding leaders in public health to the School’s faculty while also increasing the percentage of women and minorities, and supporting mentoring for junior faculty.

He has emphasized the importance of communications, explicitly adding it to the School’s mission statement. This provided the impetus for a new academic concentration in health communication in the School, and the launch of an Office of Communications to spur outreach to the media and the public.

Bloom has also refocused and strengthened the School’s Division of Public Health Practice to enable a regional and national impact in the areas of tobacco control, cancer prevention, and public health preparedness. Together with the HSPH Center for Health Communication, he engaged Hollywood to amend its film rating system so that the depiction of tobacco use would for the first time be considered a factor in a film’s rating, enabling parents to protect their children from the harms of the largest preventable cause of illness in the world.

A strong proponent of cross-School interactions, Bloom has worked with colleagues across the University, engaging with the Asia Center and the Harvard China Fund, supporting the development of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH), and collaborating with the Kennedy School on an upcoming forum on the sustainability of institutional innovations to improve health. He was particularly pleased by the successful launch of a joint J.D.-M.P.H. program in law and public health with Harvard Law School.

“As a scientist and dean, Barry Bloom has invested his extraordinary intellect and energy in exploring how research and education can contribute to fundamental improvements in people’s health and well-being,” said Steven E. Hyman, provost of Harvard University. “He has also been a leading voice in considering how Harvard can pursue innovation across disciplines and Schools and how we can expand our engagement with the world beyond our borders. I know that Barry will continue to be a greatly valued citizen of the University, given his highly integrated and genuinely global perspective on the improvement of health.”

An internationally recognized expert in immunology and infectious diseases, Bloom, 71, is a leader in global health policy as a member of scientific advisory boards for the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and independent foundations and is also a former consultant to the White House on international health policy. He continues to pursue an active interest in bench science as the principal investigator of a laboratory researching new vaccine strategies for tuberculosis, a disease that claims more than 2 million lives each year.

Bloom holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and an honorary doctorate from Amherst College, and a doctoral degree in immunology from Rockefeller University. He is a past president of the American Association of Immunologists and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. He received the first Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Research in Infectious Diseases in 1991, shared the Novartis Award in Immunology in 1998, and was the recipient of the Robert Koch Gold Medal for lifetime research in infectious diseases in 1999. He recently received an honorary doctorate from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in recognition of his “outstanding studies on the immune response in tuberculosis, in particular of its genetic control … and work on various techniques in vaccine development” and for his “towering contribution to international health and leadership in public health education.” Bloom is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. After stepping down as dean, Bloom will become a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and will continue his research and other activities related to global health as a member of the HSPH faculty.

Faust said that she intends promptly to launch a search for Bloom’s successor. “In undertaking the search, I will want to consult widely with the members of the HSPH community and knowledgeable others — to benefit from your perspectives on the state of the School, the qualities to look for in our next dean, and possible candidates for the deanship,” she said in a message to the HSPH community. “For today, I hope you will join me in congratulating Barry on his distinguished service and in looking forward, with him, to a future full of promise for the School of Public Health.”