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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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."