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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 3, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 33
Sommer to Step Down in 2005

SPH dean plans to return to research, teaching

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Alfred Sommer, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for 14 years, announced last week that he will step down in September 2005 to return to research and teaching.

By then, he said, the time will have come for a new dean, with lots of energy and new vision, to take the helm of a school at the "top of its game."

The announcement comes at a time when the school has just completed a massive 12-year effort to expand, renovate and modernize its 78-year-old campus.

Sommer said he initially thought his term would be for five years but discovered along the way that to "really make a difference would take considerably longer." During his tenure, he has overseen dramatic growth in the school's facilities, research initiatives, educational programs and prominence.

"It has been a great privilege to serve as the dean of this outstanding school. Heading up the oldest and widely acknowledged premier institution in our field, has given me the opportunity to speak up on a wide variety of important health issues I otherwise would not have been in a position to address," Sommer said. "And in working with faculty, staff, students and supporters, we have blazed new directions that now stand as benchmarks for other schools of public health. The Bloomberg School set the model when it was first founded, nearly 90 years ago. We've now given other schools of public health a new bar to aim for."

Sommer, a 1973 graduate of the School of Public Health, became the school's dean in 1990.

Among his many accomplishments, Sommer has forged strong partnerships with all other JHU divisions, which include an effort with the School of Medicine to devise a national model for training clinical researchers, and combined degree programs with both the School of Nursing and School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. He also has strengthened the school's approach to the recruitment of new faculty, requiring extensive national searches, a process that he said has "more than paid off in the excellence, diversity and imagination of those we've recruited."

The school, through his leadership, has also pioneered many new educational programs, from a Web-based master's training program to a repositioned doctorate of public health.

President William R. Brody said in a broadcast statement to the university community last week that Sommer's contributions go far beyond the school's physical expansion.

"As a researcher, his landmark work on vitamin A has been credited with saving the lives of millions of children. His pioneering research was recognized with the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research," Brody said. "As dean, he has guided research and educational initiatives that are making literally a world of difference."

Sommer said that after stepping down from the dean's position, he anticipates re-engaging in the same research and teaching agenda that stimulated him before undertaking his present administrative responsibilities. In addition to his role as dean, Sommer is a professor of epidemiology, international health and ophthalmology. His research interests include outcomes assessment, child survival, epidemiology of visual disorders, glaucoma, vitamin A deficiency and blindness prevention strategies.

"I've tried to keep up in these areas while dean, continuing to lecture around the world and actively participate in international advisory boards and committees, but with less time and more administration, I've not been able to engage as deeply as I have in the past," he said. "Once I step down, I am hopeful that I will."

Provost Steven Knapp said that Sommer's announcing his departure some 16 months in advance will give the university an opportunity to conduct a careful national search for his successor.

"Al Sommer will be an extremely tough act to follow," Knapp said. "But he has left his school in such magnificent shape that we should have no trouble attracting a leader who will carry Dean Sommer's legacy into the future."


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