Julio Frenk, a global health expert who served as health minister under former Mexican President Vicente Fox, will become dean of the Harvard School of Public Health as of January 1, according to a statement released by the University today.
He will succeed Dean Barry R. Bloom, who is stepping down
after having led the school for a decade.
emphasized the global nature of public health in a phone interview on
Tuesday, saying that his top priority as dean would be to strengthen
the school’s rapport with the rest of the world.
Frenk, who was health minister from 2000 to 2006, was
the founding director-general of Mexico's National Institute of Public
Health and later served as an executive director of the World Health
Organization. He is currently a senior fellow in the global health
program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
these and other leadership roles, he has emerged over the course of his
distinguished career as one of the most thoughtful, insightful, and
eloquent exponents of the power of public health to change lives for
the better," University President Drew G. Faust said in a letter to the
school community. "He has remained closely engaged with the academy,
including the HSPH, and has played a vital role at the crossroads of
academic research and practice."
minister in Mexico, Frenk, 54, won plaudits for creating the Seguro
Popular program, a national health insurance plan that expanded access
to medical care for millions of Mexicans who had been previously
Despite his popularity, Frenk
later ran into resistance when he ordered the distribution of the
"morning-after" pill to government health clinics under the direction
of the health ministry. The move was attacked fiercely by the Catholic
Church and anti-abortion activists, though praised by women's groups.
After leaving the health ministry, Frenk was considered a leading
candidate for the directorship of World Health Organization, and even
won the endorsement of the renowned British medical journal, The Lancet.
who started his career as an academic researcher before moving into the
policy arena, said that he does not expect his position as dean to be
all that different from his previous post as health minister. He
emphasized that his tenure as minister was characterized by the use of
scientific knowledge to guide policy.
me, it’s all grounded in my firm belief that science and scholarship,
not economic interest or short-term political gain, that will make the
world a better place,” Frenk said.
Frenk said that government styles of management tend to be more
“vertical” and top-down as opposed to a more “collegial” style at
universities, he said that the difference would be conducive to better
“That’s also my
style,” Frenk said. “I believe in dialogue, in listening so that I can
understand better the challenges and needs of faculty and students.”
who spends most of his time in Mexico City when not traveling, said
that he will be coming to Boston every month starting September to
immerse himself in the community at the School of Public Health and
familiarize himself with the issues facing faculty and students.
Frenk said that he hopes to establish a “very fluid communication” with
Harvard's other graduate schools and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,
emphasizing Harvard's recent push
toward more cross-school
collaborations in the sciences.
he has never held a full-time position at Harvard, Frenk does have ties
to the University. In addition to having served as a visiting
professor, he was the School of Public Health's Class Day speaker in
both 2001 and 2007, and is an adviser to the Harvard Initiative for
Global Health. He has also maintained close relationships with Bloom
and two former deans of the school.
the School of Public Health is often considered one of the best in the
country—its masters of public health degree is the most selective
program run by any school at Harvard—Frenk will face a few significant
challenges as dean.
The school has
outgrown its rented office space in the Longwood Medical Area, for
example, and one of Frenk's biggest tasks will be to plan and preside
over a move to new facilities in Allston.
though the school has a reputation as a powerhouse, it is also less
wealthy than many of Harvard's other units, meaning that the new dean
will have to continue to improve the school's finances, particularly in
the area of student aid.
Frenk gave few
specifics in his first interview about his plans as dean, saying that
first he will spend the coming months working closely with Bloom and
faculty and students to understand their needs and expectations.
As a Mexican national, Frenk will be one of two deans at Harvard who hails from a country other than the United States.
Mostafavi, who has served as dean of the Graduate School of Design
since last January, was born in Iran and spent a significant portion of
his career in Britain. Additionally, the outgoing dean of the School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences, Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, is a
native of India.
The naming of a
replacement for Bloom marks the end of a chapter in Harvard history, as
Bloom was the last dean remaining who had been appointed by former
President Neil L. Rudenstine.
over a year in office, Faust has already had the opportunity to select
many key deans, including for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard
Medical School, and Radcliffe Institute.
Ezzati, a public health professor who has worked closely with Frenk in
the past, sees promise in Frenk’s broad range of experience on both a
national and international level.
think the thing that is probably unique about him—more than anyone
else—is that he has served successfully in public health, global
health, and as an administrator,” Ezzati said. “In each, he has had a
vision that has transformed the world.”—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at email@example.com.