Public Health dean search draws dozens to online town halls


The second town hall on the search for a new dean of the Graduate School of Public Health drew more than 100 participants online, including many members of the search committee.

Bernard Costello, dean of the School of Dental Medicine and head of the search committee, told the group that the constraints brought on by the pandemic could affect the timeline for hiring a new dean, “although we are charging ahead as you see here.”


Recordings of both town halls on the search for a new dean of the Graduate School of Public Health are available on the school’s website, along with a list of search committee members and a place to comment.

The committee has already met with Anantha Shekhar, the incoming senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, who gave his thoughts about the position and took questions. In July, Shekhar will officially assume the role now filled by Arthur Levine.

The search is being conducted by the same firm, Isaacson Miller, that conducted the search for the new senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences. Having a search firm has many benefits, Costello said, “They know who some of the best individuals are in the marketplace in this area and even some of the very best individuals who are not currently on the market, but would potentially consider a position at a place like the University of Pittsburgh. … Many people think this is one of the best jobs in this space that one could get, given the opportunities here, and maybe the best dean job in public health anywhere.”

Currently, the committee is gathering information to put into the position profile, which it expects to complete in the coming weeks. After the job description is posted, candidates can officially apply and start to be vetted.

“That process can take six months or longer,” Costello said. “Boy, is that a wild card right now with all that’s going on. We did not want to wait. The school (of Public Health), I think, would benefit from having a leader, and there’s a lot of excitement about starting this process and keeping it going. We’re doing this by Zoom today for that very reason.

“But the original desire to have somebody perhaps at least selected, if not installed, by the fall, that might be a little bit unrealistic at this point with all that’s going on. But that doesn’t mean the committee is not going to work with serious intention in this space and not rush, but do it quite deliberately and not let the COVID crisis hold us back.”

The Faculty Senate within the School of Public Health supplied the committee with information about what the job should entail, and “it was more than a running start, frankly,” Costello said, adding that staff and student input also shaped the document.

He encouraged those on the call to let the search firm or committee know of any possible candidates for the job.

“And this is very important, … think about your very best choices, even if you think … there’s almost no chance that they’re going to leave their current arrangement,” Costello said. “Please give us their name anyway, because we’re still going to ask and often this is where the search firm is really, really talented, they can often at least get somebody to have a conversation about an opportunity like this. … This is the way that we get the best candidate pool possible.”

Anyone can send suggestions directly to the search firm once the position profile is up on the Public Health website, or can send them to Costello and to Joanna Spontak in Levine’s office. If you didn’t get a chance to comment during one of the town hall meetings, there is a comment section on the Public Health website’s page about the dean search.

The committee will come up with a short list of candidates, which will then be sent to Shekhar and other senior leadership. The chosen candidate also must be approved by the Board of Trustees, which has final say on all dean-level positions.

Questions and comments

During the town hall, Costello read and responded as needed to comments submitted via the Zoom chat.

Ryan Minster, president of the Pitt Public Health Faculty Senate Executive Committee and assistant professor, Human Genetics, wrote in: “The mission of our school esteems excellence in leadership and education, research and service. However, many faculty who are primarily engaged in education do not feel that they and their work are valued compared to more research-oriented faculty, and even research-oriented faculty feel that their value is solely proportional to the research dollars they bring into the school. The next dean needs to be the type of leader who will appreciate all individuals comprising Pitt Public Health across the whole breadth of its mission and will work to ensure that appreciation is realized in terms of morale, inclusion, promotion and compensation.”

Costello responded that those are all key elements that could be applied to any school at Pitt. “Deans have to have some equitable perspective on the entirety of the faculty and every element, those that are in administration, those that are in service roles and certainly, those that are in teaching rules. And yes, we still want the School of Public Health to be incredibly successful in the research arena. We want to have our cake and eat it too. Frankly, I think we want a candidate that embodies that very set of ideals and continues to keep the research enterprise very, very successful as part of that.”

Others also pointed out specific areas they thought a new dean should be skilled at, all of which Costello said they would consider:

  • “The current pandemic and impact on higher education is going to change how education is delivered both traditional and distance-based. Is the search committee going to consider this and identifying a qualified candidate?”

  • “Several schools of public health around the country have or are developing undergraduate degrees. Will a competitive candidate have experience at the undergraduate level?”

  • “It would be important for the next dean to have enthusiasm for fundraising and development and also be interested in health communication, such as serving as a TV expert on important public health issues like COVID-19. The school is excellent, but a hidden gem that shouldn’t be hidden.”

  • “I hope the search committee takes into account candidates’ desire to foster modern education and their ability to evaluate and potentially overhaul the current model to better facilitate planning, delivering and evaluating modern (education), including cross-disciplinary education.”

An issue raised at the previous town hall and at this one was a perceived bias toward candidates with a medical degree. “Will the committee give equal or more weight toward a Ph.D. in public health?” a participant asked. “This training is very important for a potential dean of the School of Public Health.”

Costello said that a medical degree is not currently a requirement to get this job. “While that’s been the case in the past and could be an element — just like somebody having an MBA is an extra piece of helpful education to make them a good dean — it’s not a requirement for the job. And that’s not been pushed down from the administration to us as a charge.”

Another issue that Costello said has been discussed at length by the committee was raised again at the town hall: “Given the health inequities faced by our local community, including inequities based on race, sex and neighborhoods, and our obligation as a School of Public Health to improve our community, to what extent will the expertise and social determinants of health be key for top candidates?”

Costello said, “I think there is huge amount of opportunity there. And I’m clearly not the only one who thinks that.” Issues surrounding health inequities also were a focus of the search last year for a new senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, he said.

There also were some specific questions.

Q: Is there a fundraising acquisition and development threshold for the candidate?

Costello said that at Pitt deans and even the professional fundraisers are not held to a specific number because that’s not something that is controllable. For instance, any goal for this year will be severely impacted by the stock market crash.

“The degree of engagement is a metric that is quantifiable in some senses. We want somebody that is engaged in fundraising and development and has a key understanding of that and can engage with those professionals and others to be able to tell the story so that people are interested in supporting all of your good work at the School of Public Health.”

Q: Is there a desire on the part of the administration for an individual who prefers a centralized or a decentralized management style.

Costello said no one, including the chancellor and the provost, has articulated any preference to the committee.

Q: Is there a preference for an external versus internal candidate?

Again, he said that has not been articulated in any fashion, and “I think it would not be smart for us to even try to consider that. At this point, we simply want to find the very best fit for the School of Public Health.”

Q: How long are dean’s contracts and how are deans evaluated on an annual basis and what are they evaluated on?

There are no term limits on dean positions at Pitt, Costello said, including his own, and others pointed out that former Public Health Dean Don Burke didn’t have a time-limited contract 

“That said, you serve at the pleasure of the administration and ultimately the chancellor and the Board of Trustees. So if they want to move me on and pick somebody else, that’s within their purview,” he said.

Deans are evaluated on an annual basis, very much like the faculty, with a form where they outline objectives and accomplishments. These go to their senior administrator — Levine, currently, and Shekhar starting in July, for all the schools of the Health Sciences — for review and their comments. Costello said they are evaluated on “every aspect of the job and the qualities that we’re discussing. … It’s not how many dollars I bring in for development or necessarily how well we do funding-wise on the NIH funding list, but every element of success is a component of that. …

“And I think it will be shaped by the desire of the (new) senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences (Shekhar) to have specific domains be successful,” he continued. “And I know he wants a very successful School of Public Health. He articulated that to the group and to me as well.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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