University Leaders Must Be Free to Air Views That Challenge Their Communities

Harvard University’s recent announcement that law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr would no longer remain faculty dean of one of its undergraduate houses raises profound questions for all university senior leaders.

The reasons for Harvard’s decision are complex, involving long-standing complaints about Sullivan’s administration of the house. But the recent focus on his leadership was precipitated by an outcry over his time on the legal defence team of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Some members of the Harvard community felt that Sullivan’s willingness to defend Weinstein, who has been accused of multiple sexual crimes, compromised his ability to provide a safe, supportive environment for students. Sullivan’s advocates, on the other hand, have said that although Sullivan no longer represents Weinstein, his willingness to do so is testament to the fact that even people accused of heinous offences still have the right to the best legal defence they can access. Some have even cited John Adams, a Harvard alum, who, in 1770, defended the British soldiers accused of carrying out the Boston Massacre, despite his personal sympathies for American independence.

The Sullivan controversy highlights the challenge leaders of schools and universities face as they navigate the conversation around difficult issues. As the dean of a school of public health, I have long pondered when and how academic leaders should take public positions on issues they feel are important. To my thinking, they must do so. But Sullivan’s case raises the fraught question of what happens when that position runs counter to the views held by many in the institution (since choosing to represent Weinstein has been perceived, rightly or wrongly, to amount to taking a position).

What Will Happen to Women’s Health If Abortion Is Banned? | Dean's Note

Access to legal abortion is under threat in the US as never before in the post-Roe era. Anti-abortion laws passed in states like Alabama and Missouri have all but ended legal abortion access in these areas. If legal challenges to these laws reach the Supreme Court, the Court’s new conservative majority raises the possibility that the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 will not be upheld, clearing the way for conservative states effectively ending access to abortion for millions of women.

The Public's Health: Homelessness | The Public Health Post

Homelessness is a brutal, demoralizing experience. Every day brings the difficult search for shelter, food, clothing, a place to wash, a place to go to the bathroom for more than 550,00 Americans, and those who find their way to shelters have three times the age-adjusted risk of dying compared to the general population. Those who go unsheltered, the so-called “rough sleepers,” have 10 times the mortality.

Homelessness has the power to move us to action like few other failings in a modern world. Unfortunately, our efforts to tackle homelessness have long fallen short. Historically, making housing contingent on sobriety and employment—forcing those who did not meet these marks to fall away and become chronically homeless—has imperiled millions. Housing First—a program that provides housing and support services without requiring employment or pretreatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders—has gained traction. Compared to treatment first, Housing First leads to improvements in housing stability, reduced hospitalizations and use of emergency departments, and better quality of life.

A Wish for Our Graduates | Dean's Note

On November 30, 1900, in Room 16 of the Hôtel d’Alsace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, Oscar Wilde died at age 46. His death was not sudden. The poet, novelist, and playwright had been in declining health for some time. While there is still debate over the exact nature of his final illness, it appears to have been some form of ear disease. Despite his diminished state, Wilde’s famous wit never left him. As he slipped away in his dingy room, he is said to have joked, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us must go.”

Wilde had been among the most celebrated figures of the 19th century. Works like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray sealed his reputation as a popular entertainer. His humor and charisma made him, for a time, the toast of high society. Yet in just a few short years, he fell from his position of influence into the poor health that would kill him.

A Wish for the Class of 2019: How graduates can make the world healthier. | Psychology Today

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Many of us have heard some variation of this at a graduation ceremony. It is the sort of advice we tend to give to students as they prepare for the next step in their lives, and which members of the class of 2019 will likely hear this weekend. Witty, yet profound, the quote has been attributed to Oscar Wilde. It speaks to the importance of finding one’s own identity and staying true to it in a world that offers many incentives for doing just the opposite. 

Read the full article on Psychology Today

The Public's Health: Veterans and Health Misconceptions | The Public Health Post

There are 200,000 new veterans each year, adding to the 20 million Americans who have served in the military. Nearly five decades since our military went all-volunteer, and after almost two decades of constant war, we continue to misunderstand the military. Novelists and moviemakers depict veterans who are disconnected and marginalized. That is largely not so. The military is solidly middle class and, in many ways, a select group. High physical and educational standards—a high school degree required—means that 71% of young adults would fail to qualify if they tried to enlist. The military is also an ever more diverse group. Women now make up one in six enlisted, and both sexes are more ethnically diverse than the civilian population. Veterans are more likely to vote, volunteer, give to charity, and attend town meetings than non-veterans. Female and black veterans experience a wage premium (2% and 7% respectively) over non-veterans.  

5 things we should talk about when we talk about health | Oxford University Press Blog

Americans spend more money on health than anyone else in the world, yet they live shorter, less healthy lives than citizens of other rich countries. The complex reason for this is the multiple factors that affect our health. The simple reason is the fact that people seldom talk about these factors. Here are five things that people should be talking about when they talk about health.

Humility Is the First Step toward a Healthier World | Scientific American

This month, the world saw the first-ever image of a black hole. The picture was captured by the Event Horizon Telescopea network of radio telescopes operated by a global team of scientists. The black hole is 53.49 million light-years away, at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy. Taking a picture of such a distant object was an immense feat of science and engineering. The roots of this achievement stretch from Einstein’s first theorizing about the existence of black holes, all the way to the creation of cutting-edge technology that allowed us to finally see one.

Such stories are reminders of why it sometimes feels like science can do anything, from exploring the cosmos, to peering into the distant past, to blurring the boundary between life and death. And that feeling often extends to the science that informs our health. On that front, the 20th century brought a host of major discoveries, from penicillin to the double helix. As the Digital Age ushers in new advances, it is as easy as it has ever been to imagine that science really can solve all our health problems one day.