Transforming Public Health in the 21st Century

Naming Ceremony for the Fairbanks School of Public Health
Scholars Hall
University Place Conference Center
Indianapolis, Indiana
September 27, 2012


Public health research and practice have been credited with many notable achievements, including much of the 30-year gain in life expectancy in the United States that occurred during the 20th century.1

Ross Brownson, co-director of the Prevention Research Center, an organization funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, notes that a large part of this increase “can be attributed to the provision of safe water and food, sewage treatment and disposal, tobacco use prevention and cessation, injury prevention, control of infectious diseases through immunization and other means, and other population-based interventions.”2 

“Despite these successes,” Brownson observes, “many additional public health challenges remain.”3

The event for which we are gathered today is the latest manifestation of Indiana University’s strong commitment to helping to meet the serious public health challenges facing the state and the nation.

The Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health 

In 2010, I was delighted to announce that the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation had made an extremely generous gift of $20 million in support of Indiana University’s effort to establish a School of Public Health on the IUPUI campus.

Today, as we gather to celebrate the establishment of this school, I am delighted to announce that the school will from this moment on be known as the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.

On behalf of Indiana University, I extend our deepest thanks to the Fairbanks Foundation board of directors, and to Leonard Betley, president and chairman of the Fairbanks Foundation—who is with us today and from whom you will hear later in the program.

The Fairbanks Foundation has been extremely generous in their support of Indiana University over the years, with grants and gifts totaling more than $33 million.

A generous 2006 grant from the foundation was used to establish the Fairbanks Institute medical research center, a collaboration with the IU School of Medicine, BioCrossroads, and the Regenstrief Institute. The Fairbanks Institute is building one of the most comprehensive biorepositories, one that is being used by researchers to identify better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the nation’s common diseases.

The Fairbanks Foundation also generously contributed $6 million toward the construction of Fairbanks Hall, an education and resource center that is a collaboration between IU Health, the IU School of Medicine, and the IU School of Nursing. Fairbanks Hall is home to one of the largest medical education simulation centers in the country.

The Fairbanks Foundation clearly shares Indiana University’s commitment to improving the quality of life in Indiana.

The Urgent Statewide Need for Improved Public Health

As you will undoubtedly hear from subsequent speakers, there is an urgent need for improved public health in the state. By a number of different measures, Indiana is considered one of the least healthy states in the nation. Studies demonstrate that Indiana ranks poorly among all states in the leading causes of illness and death as well as determinants of health. According to the United Health Foundation, Indiana ranks only 38th on its total health index. This is Indiana’s lowest rank in the last 25 years. Our state has the 10th highest smoking rate in the United States.4 The percentage of adults who have had a heart attack and the percentage of adults who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol are both the 9th highest in the country.5 Indiana is also one of the least funded states in terms of federal public health funding. The continuing declines we see in many of these health determinants lend a sense of urgency to our efforts to address the underlying problems.

Addressing The Critical Need: IU's Schools of Public Health

Schools of public health can help to address these critical issues by conducting cutting-edge research that leads to the implementation of evidence-based programs and policies, by training the public health workforce, and by engaging in service and outreach that improve lives.

Until this fall, however, there were no schools of public health in the state of Indiana. Now, there are two:  both at Indiana University. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the transformation of the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation on the Bloomington campus into a School of Public Health. The Bloomington school will focus on rural community health, building upon existing program strengths in behavioral health, environmental health, wellness and epidemiology.

The Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health on the IUPUI campus will, of course, build upon the strengths of the Department of Public Health, which was previously part of the School of Medicine.

Both schools will allow us to more effectively mobilize the great breadth and depth of expertise that exists within Indiana University to address public health problems that impact the state of Indiana and its citizens.

The Public Health Approach

Of course, we also have great strengths related to these public health issues in the IU School of Medicine at Indiana University, the second largest medical school in the United States, and a global leader in medical education and research—and in our affiliation with IU Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, and one that was recently ranked among the top 16 in the nation.

But, as most of you are aware, medicine is but one of many instruments of public health. As a recent report from the Institute of Medicine noted, “a wide array of actors across the United States—including those in both primary care and public health—contribute to …ensuring that members of society are healthy and reaching their full potential.”

“The integration of primary care and public health,” the report added, “could enhance the capacity of both sectors to carry out their respective missions and link with other stakeholders to catalyze a collaborative, intersectoral movement toward improved population health."6

With its strong connections to the IU School of Medicine and other health science schools at IU, the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health will serve as just such a catalyst, helping to build a more collaborative approach toward improved public health. It will serve as a synergistic resource in teaching, research, and service for academic units on the IUPUI campus. It will help Indiana University to prepare an appropriately educated and trained public health workforce to meet Indiana’s public health challenges. The school will also enable Indiana University to compete for federal and foundation funding that is open only to schools (and not programs or departments) of public health, increasing public health spending for Hoosiers. And the school will contribute to the state’s economic development through the promotion of a healthier workforce and the containment of rapidly increasing employer health care costs.

Special Thanks

The great progress we have made in establishing the Fairbanks School of Public Health is a result of the efforts of many people who deserve our gratitude.

I am deeply grateful, in particular, to Vice President Ed Marshall, who has served as chair of the IU Public Health Coordinating Council and who contributed much to the leadership of this effort, and to all the members of the council who have overseen our efforts to establish this school. I would also like to acknowledge Craig Brater, dean of the IU School of Medicine, who I view as the godfather of the idea for a school of public health at IU, and Marie Swanson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Health, for their vision and for their efforts in moving this project forward.


In his 1999 book, Visions of Technology, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhoades notes that the public health system was “arguably the greatest technological triumph of the [20th] century” and that “fully half of us are alive today because of its improvements.”7

Given the remarkable advancements of the last century, we can only imagine the achievements in public health that might be in store during the 21st century.

We expect the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health to be at the forefront of these achievements.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Ross C. Brownson, Elizabeth A. Baker, Terry L. Left, Kathleen N. Gillespie, William R. True (eds.) Evidence-Based Public Health. Oxford University Press, 203, 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “The State of Public Health in Indiana,” 2012 Public Health Action Campaign Fact Sheet, American Public Health Association, available online at, retrieved September 22, 2012.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Institute of Medicine, Primary Care and Public Health: Exploring Integration to Improve Population Health, (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012), 3. 
  7. Richard Rhodes, Visions Of Technology: A Century Of Vital Debate About Machines Systems And The Human World, (Simon and Schuster, 2000), 22.