To boldly go …
The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York has a mandate to change the world. It's a goal that's audacious and ambitious.
The apogee of public health achievement in the 20th century was increasing the average life span of humans. Yet, as we're seeing now with rising medical costs and incessant health care debates, this blessing is becoming a burden—one that strains finances, strains an outdated health care system and even strains society, as illustrated, in part, by the nascent sandwich generation (adults caring for both their parents and their children). Led by a remarkable dean, Dr. Linda Fried, the Mailman School has set out to tackle these wide-ranging public health conundrums. Fried challenges students, professors and other colleges at the university to develop public health solutions for our aging population in the 21st-century world.
This prodigious goal has pumped life—and money—into the school. Enrollment in the master's and doctoral programs are up 26% over the past four years, according to a New York Times article, and grants from the National Institutes of Health increased 11% in 2011, a year in which the overall NIH budget decreased.
At a time when higher education in America is under financial assault, the Mailman School is flourishing. At a time when health care challenges related to our aging population threaten the economic future of our nation, the Mailman School is redefining its mission and seeking answers. Quite simply, the Mailman School is making a name for itself while making a difference.
Reading about Fried and the school she leads got me to thinking: What if LSU had the courage and the visionary leadership to think so boldly? What if LSU decided to become a world leader in something other than college football?
Here's a suggestion: LSU could create a curriculum on reviving inner cities, building off work already under way in Old South Baton Rouge, and eventually take the model national—even global. Every large city has a district or neighborhood in need of saving. This would not simply be about chasing federal grants, neighborhood cleanup days or slapping paint on rundown houses. It would be a universitywide assault to bring dying urban areas back to sustainable economic life. It would be a mission that could actually find ways to end poverty, rather than the current system of mitigating it.
Imagine the energy that would surround such an effort. Finance and marketing students working on models for businesses (including access to capital) in depressed areas; education students exploring innovative ways to teach low-income students; kinesiology students taking up physical education programs; nutrition students creating projects to solve food desert problems; landscape architecture students pioneering new streetscape models; and law students drafting model bills and procedures for clearing title on abandoned houses. The possibilities are numerous, including getting the School of Music involved in education and business initiatives—yes, I said School of Music. I might also suggest a partnership with the Baton Rouge Community College to develop neighborhood workforce training facilities that not only educate and train individuals for jobs, but also provide child-care facilities and short-term employment opportunities to make it easier for those in impoverished situations to get the training necessary to provide for themselves and their families.
Such a daring initiative would attract world-class faculty who would oversee top-flight students from around the country who would come to LSU in the quest to find solutions to a problem that plagues cities around the world.
Forget Southern Regional average, LSU could become a global leader.
This can't be a half-hearted, feel-good program like the LSU Community University Partnership, which has been around since 2001 and accomplished very little. This must be a universitywide commitment to do something to change the world.
In a higher education world of dwindling financial support and expanding technology, universities must change their model and mindset. Soaring tuition costs have people fairly questioning the cost benefit of a college degree and the reputation of the institution awarding that degree.
It's a time where universities must be willing to boldly go where universities have not gone before. LSU has the talent to do this. The question is, does it have the vision and leadership?
LSU must aspire not only to be great, but also to do good while being great.
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