Campus & Community

Julio Frenk sees HSPH as ‘first’ in 21st century

3 min read

In his first address as dean of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Julio Frenk described what he called his ambition for the School: to become the “first school of public health of the 21st century.”

Frenk made his remarks to more than 300 HSPH members in the Kresge cafeteria on Jan. 8.

His predecessor, Barry Bloom, introduced Frenk as a “hero in a very short pantheon of my personal heroes.” In a lighthearted exchange, Bloom transferred the “symbols of power” to Frenk: a “greatly besmirched tie” handed down from previous deans; a copy of a book called “The Golden Cane” signed by every dean since 1922; and a gavel.

“So, with that, I can only wish you as much joy and happiness as I’ve had and as rewarding a career,” said Bloom, who is Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health. A tuberculosis expert, Bloom will maintain a laboratory at the School.

Frenk, an eminent authority on global health who served as the Minister of Health of Mexico from 2000 to 2006 and is the T & G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development, said his ambition is for HSPH “to be the first school of public health of the 21st century. ‘First’ in the two meanings of the word — first in time and first in quality.”

What does that mean?

“It means a global outlook,” Frenk said, adding, “Global is not the opposite of domestic.” It includes “understanding both the way in which this country receives the influence of the rest of the world, positive and negative, and also the way in which events happen in this country” that have repercussions around the globe.

The importance of investing in future generations was another key part of Frenk’s talk. HSPH needs to make more financial assistance available in order to keep attracting the best students, he said: “And that will be a challenge in this economic environment, but it’s something that I pledge to make my top priority.” Frenk also made a commitment to attracting top-flight junior faculty.

Frenk said he hoped to convene retreats during which these and other goals can be explored. He noted that a potential presence of HSPH on the Harvard campus in Allston will continue to be addressed. He expressed his excitement at the prospect of intellectually engaging with the HSPH faculty, and he acknowledged his role as a steward of the School’s financial and management activities. He also said that he will chair a planned international commission examining leadership development in public health.