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“‘Publish or perish’ is the mantra of faculty members at most major universities nationwide. While research and its resulting publications are vital to [universities], teaching excellence must be, too. But unfortunately, that is not always the case—especially in professional schools that rely on ‘soft’ money, salary funding that individual researchers raise for themselves through grants.”1—David Kleinbaum, first recipient of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH)/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence
In a period of evolving expectations, shrinking budgets, and expanding student enrollments, the traditional balance of the “three-legged stool” of teaching, research, and service may be shifting emphasis from teaching to research as a faculty priority. Barondess notes:
… the American academic health center emerged from a tradition that bound research, teaching, and patient care. In recent decades, major changes in its faculty array and activities have been generated by extramural funding patterns that have emphasized the research functions of the faculty and, more recently, subspecialty care by faculty members, to the detriment of teaching functions and of immersion in major health care and health promotion issues. The latter are arising more prominently in the public agenda than in the academic agenda.2
This is not to suggest that quality teaching is not interdependent with a faculty member's research and service efforts. However, in most universities, it is becoming increasingly clear to young faculty that their success as measured in promotion and tenure decisions, as well as salary, is linked to externally funded research endeavors rather than teaching excellence. This shift in priorities presents a potential threat to the teaching mission of schools and colleges of public health.
In 2005, in recognition of the importance of good teaching in public health, ASPH and Pfizer, Inc. announced the establishment of the ASPH/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence. The award was established to recognize graduate public health faculty from full ASPH-member accredited schools of public health for their teaching excellence. In particular, the award supports faculty who are outstanding in teaching and mentoring students toward distinction in public health research, teaching, and practice. The ASPH/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence seeks to bring visibility to one outstanding faculty member annually, and will honor that individual for excellence in teaching.3
Each school or college of public health may nominate one candidate; a lead faculty nominator and a secondary faculty nominator submit a form accompanied by a description and supporting evidence of the nominee's outstanding contributions in one or more of the following areas: (1) classroom teaching; (2) mentorship of students at the baccalaureate, master, and/or doctoral levels; (3) mentorship of faculty; (4) teaching outside one's university, including continuing education programs, short courses, and programs for the general public; (5) innovative teaching-related contributions to one's field, such as textbooks and other teaching materials; (6) publications and/or presentations on teaching methodology; (7) high-level, national leadership to improve teaching and mentoring within schools of public health; and (8) demonstration of a national and/or international reputation as an educator. Nominees must be currently teaching and must demonstrate a notable record of success (a minimum of 10 years in graduate and/or undergraduate public health education). In addition, a letter of support from the school of public health dean and two letters of support from students attesting to the nominee's teaching and mentorship contributions are required. An independent Award Review Committee selects the awardees.
The annual award recipient is recognized at the ASPH Annual Meeting and is awarded a $10,000 cash prize and plaque. The recipient is also invited to make a formal presentation addressing teaching excellence at the subsequent year's Academy Forum (detailed later in this article). Dr. David Kleinbaum, Professor of Epidemiology at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia, was recognized as the first recipient of the ASPH/Pfizer Award for Teaching Excellence in 2005. In 2006, Dr. Lu Ann Aday, the Lorne D. Bain Distinguished Professor in Public Health and Medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, Texas, was named the second recipient of the award. In 2007, Dr. Richard Riegelman, Professor of Epidemiology—Biostatistics, Medicine, and Health Policy at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, Washington, DC, became the third recipient. Announcement of nominations for the 2008 ASPH/Pfizer award were in March 2008 (information not available at the time of publication).
In an effort to sustain and expand the importance of teaching excellence in schools and colleges of public health, a group of award nominees and the first teaching award recipient formed a Steering Committee to establish the ASPH/Pfizer Academy of Distinguished Public Health Teachers. The intent of this Steering Committee was to create a forum to promote and foster excellence in teaching in ASPH-member schools. Establishment of this Academy was approved by the ASPH Board of Directors and is now supported with an additional $50,000 grant award from Pfizer, Inc.
Following initial correspondence and a conference call, the Steering Committee met on February 5, 2007, to develop the following recommendations about the form and function of the Academy of Distinguished Public Health Teachers. While at a formative stage, the founding members of the Academy have proposed an ambitious agenda that includes the following initiatives.
We invite and challenge our public health colleagues to embrace the importance and quality of the educational leg of the academic three-legged stool, and to join us in elevating excellence, visibility, scholarship, and impact of learning and teaching in public health. We welcome your comments, which you can share by contacting Elizabeth M. Weist, MA, MPH, at: ASPH; 202-296-1099, ext. 129; e-mail gro.hpsa@tsiewe.
The authors thank Barbara DeBuono, MD, MPH, and Dee Santana, both of Pfizer, Inc., and Harrison C. Spencer, MD, MPH, Allison J. Foster, MBA, CAE, and Elizabeth M. Weist, MA, MPH, of the Association of Schools of Public Health for their contributions to the establishment of the Academy of Distinguished Public Health Teachers.