Initiative Will Get Up to $100M

Money will fund at least five professorships across University

The Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH), a new interdisciplinary pet project borne out of the University Provost’s office, is set to receive a grant from a private foundation that may reach $100 million, according to professors at the School of Public Health (SPH).

Professors have said that the Ellison Medical Foundation, founded by Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison, is in discussions with the University about funding the research of HIGH, led by Salstonall Professor of Public Policy Christopher J.L. Murray.

Andelot Professor of Demography Allan G. Hill, who teaches in the Department of Population and International Health at SPH, said that the Ellison grant is expected to fund at least five professorships in demographics distributed across the different schools of the University.

“That discussion isn’t over yet as to where they will fall,” Hill said.

University President Lawrence H. Summers would not comment on the specifics of the grant Monday, saying that the details remained unsettled.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last week, Ellison said he met with Summers on March 16 and that he plans a major partnership with Harvard in the near future.

“There’s going to be a big announcement with Harvard very soon about a large database and journal we’re starting, basically assessing how government and private foundations do in measuring improvements to world health,” Ellison said on May 8.

Ellison could not be reached for comment yesterday. Murray is travelling this week and also could not be reached for comment.

RIDING HIGH?

The global health initiative, which officially opened its doors last October, has recently been expanded to include the SPH-based Center for Population and Development Studies, which Hill and others say will receive some of the Ellison grant funding.

The center will be folded into HIGH on July 1, angering students and the center’s director, Takemi Professor of International Health Policy Michael R. Reich, who says he was not consulted on the decision. Reich will be replaced by Murray.

A letter was released April 29 by the Provost’s office to center affiliates and SPH administrators announcing the leadership change.

One professor, who wished to remain anonymous because the topic is sensitive, said professors affiliated with the center are concerned about the process that led to the administrative changes. The professor questioned whether Murray, whose global health initiative is set to expand thanks to the Ellison grant, will be able to devote adequate attention to the center.

“I think that a lot of people from around the University feel like they have a stake in the center and would like to have had some open discussion about its future mission,” the professor said. “Obviously the character of the director will have a great influence on the center. Given that Murray is running an empire, can he manage the center in addition?...We know that he’s superman, but this is quite an addition.”

Nathan J. Heard, a second-year doctoral student in the Department for Population and International Health and a Spiegelman Fellow at the center, said that students who study and do research through the center were not consulted on the changes.

“Students are, at best, an afterthought in this process.”

Reich said that he was told of the decision to merge the center and appoint a new director this past September in a meeting with Hyman. Reich said that although Hyman accepted his resignation at the time, Hyman called him back the next day and asked him to stay on as director until details could be worked out. Reich agreed.

But Reich added that one of the conditions of his resignation was that he be allowed to read any public announcement before its release, something that he says he was not given the chance to do.

“I was surprised by the [April 29] letter from the Provost which was broadly circulated to HSPH faculty and students because I thought we had an agreement that I could review the content before circulation because of its sensitive nature,” Reich said.

The decision to fold the center into HIGH and appoint a new director was undertaken jointly by Hyman and SPH Dean Barry R. Bloom on recommendations from an external committee that reviewed the center’s mission last spring, according to a statement from University science spokesman B.D. Colen.

The review committee’s internal report, obtained by The Crimson, recommended that “over time, the center needs to connect to the university global health initiative in a concrete way.”

At issue is the meaning of the word “concrete,” Reich said.

“My understanding of the report and the views of the committee is that there was no such recommendation to place the center under the Global Health Initiative umbrella,” he said.

The center has always been a University-wide research hub, although its endowment is based at SPH.

Members of the external review committee declined to comment for this article.

“After the review report came out in March 2004, I contacted the Provost three times by e-mail asking for an appointment and received no response or acknowledgment,” Reich said last week. “My only contact with him was in September 2004, when he informed me that a decision had been made to merge the center with Harvard’s Global Health Initiative.”

Hyman declined to comment, referring questions to Colen.

—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at habib@fas.harvard.edu.