The Test of Time

“There ought to be something in Atlanta.”
How a program became a school


The Test of Time
Programs, departments, and the changing landscape of knowledge at Emory

Every program does not necessarily become its own field or discipline or department. The test really is time.
Mark Sanders, Professor of English and African American Studies and Chair of the Department of African American Studies

Because it’s an emergent property of the people who are here, a program can respond to and provide the most cutting-edge intellectual environment at that moment.
Paul Lennard, Director of the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology

“There ought to be something in Atlanta.”
How a program became a school

Departments and programs featured in this article

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Like Emory’s most highly regarded interdisciplinary programs and departments, the beginnings and evolution of the Rollins School of Public Health played to existing strengths. Public health at Emory had its beginnings in the early 1970s as an informal group of university-wide faculty who gathered regularly to discuss issues in biomedical ethics. In 1975, the first class of sixteen students began their studies for the Master’s in Community Health, a program in the Department of Preventive and Family Medicine of the medical school.

“Its purpose was to train the people who were going to deal with health reform in the Nixon administration,” explains Dick Levinson, then a faculty member in the sociology department and now executive associate dean of the School of Public Health. “It was about assessing needs and determining appropriate care and use of technology—part of cost containment in that era.”

The program’s faculty ranks soon outgrew its offices in a residence on Clifton Road and moved to two small houses on Gatewood Road. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Eugene Gangarosa, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) veteran, the program grew in enrollment, fiscal strength, and sustainability. The degree was re-cast into a Master’s in Public Health, and the international health track was launched with an influx of CDC-assigned faculty.

In 1989, the program became a division in the medical school. Then-Emory president Jim Laney had taken a strong interest, as did then-vice president for health affairs Charles Hatcher, then-provost Billy Frye, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and then-CDC director Bill Foege.

“At that point, we [the faculty] were talking among ourselves about whether we ought to become a school,” says Levinson. “In the midst of our own internal discussions, we were told that the trustees had decided it would be a good time to become a school. There was this sense that there ought to be something in Atlanta. With the CDC, the largest concentration of epidemiologists, biostatisticians, and social and behavioral scientists interested in public health, it was a rich environment—a natural.”

On September 13, 1990, the Board of Trustees made the Division of Public Health into the School of Public Health.