The university has ended a year-long search for a new dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs by promoting from within and selecting Lawrence Wallack, the director of the Portland State School of Community Health since 1999.
Wallack will assume the deanship July 1. The founding dean, Nohad Toulan, had already delayed his planned retirement a year when a nation-wide search last year did not produce a successor. Toulan had agreed to stay until a new search was completed, but not later than June 2004.
Wallack came to Portland State from the University of California at Berkeley, where he served on the faculty for 17 years. The year after his arrival at Portland State he was named one of the first recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Innovators Combating Substance Abuse awards. The award recognizes individuals who have made substantial and innovative contributions to the field of substance abuse.
Wallack has an extensive background in media advocacy to advance social change. He recently contributed an op-ed article to The Oregonian on public health.
“I thought I could inform the public debate,” he explained.
The new appointee said he talked about his vision for the college of UPA in his interviews for the deanship position.
The college consists of three schools, the School of Community Health, the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government and the School of Urban Studies and Planning.
“Each of these schools is nationally recognized,” he said. “They all share certain common areas. I want to increase the common areas among the schools.”
He plans to do this by finding and emphasizing topics that cut across the interests of all three schools. Actually, he said, all three schools currently address common interests and common problems. He cited jobs as an example.
“We know that employment has a major impact on health,” he said. Additionally, both government and urban planning are involved in job creation and facilitation.
“A current interest in community health is reducing heart disease. One of the variables is fitness and exercise,” he said. “This is affected by the way we design cities, their sidewalks and parks. What kind of transportation affects the level of exercise?” The School of Government also would be concerned in legal and regulatory issues of public administration which could affect exercise.
Wallack sees enthusiasm in the college for his philosophy.
“I think the faculty is very interested in multi-disciplinary approaches,” he said. “My role as dean is to create opportunities for faculty to engage in innovative approaches to address the problems of the city and the region.
“The process of this intellectual cross-fertilization is already in place. I just want to accelerate it.”
This year he has submitted proposals for research funding that will involve two or three of the schools. He also expects to be working with Oregon Health and Sciences University and with other departments on the PSU campus.
“I want to continue the good work and good foundation that Dean Toulan has established,” he said. “After July 1, I will be looking more at specific mechanisms that would look at interdisciplinary approaches to problems of the city and the region.”
Wallack believes the position he is inheriting from Toulan is unique in the United States.
“One of the most exciting things about this college is that we have the capability to apply multi-disciplinary research and programs. I don’t think there is any place in the country that has the three schools under one roof. I think we can do things here at Portland State that can’t be done anywhere else.”
He summed up his feelings about his appointment by saying, “It’s a great opportunity. I’m very excited about it and I hope I can make a contribution.”
He paid tribute to the retiring dean, saying, “Dean Toulan is a Portland treasure. I look forward to his advice.”
Last year, the university unsuccessfully concluded an initial search for a successor to Toulan. Four finalists were brought on campus and interviewed. The position was offered in early spring to David Fleming, at that time acting director for the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fleming instead accepted the position of director of Global Strategies with the Gates Foundation, headed by Mr. And Mrs. Bill Gates of Microsoft.
At that time, Provost Mary Kay Tetreault said, “The position will be advertised this spring with candidate interviews to take place fall 2004.” A new search ensued, finalists were interviewed on campus and the outcome was the appointment of Wallack, announced February 3.
Wallack was not an applicant in the initial search last year. He did observe the process with interest at that time.
“The process highlighted for me the unique aspects of the college,” he said, in explaining his decision to apply in the second round.