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Dr. Michael Forster

Flint, Michigan public health crisis: isolated incident, or more to come?

Eyes around the country are on Flint, Michigan, where a money-saving switch in water source has led to dangerous levels of lead leeching into the water supply, disproportionately affecting poor children and threatening all drinkers’ health, both immediately and for years to come.  There’s plenty of blame for bad decision-making, incompetence, and poor response to go around.  Michigan Governor Synder has taken his share of blame, apologized, and promised to correct the problem.

The Flint debacle is fraught with issues – of race, poverty, and austerity politics among them.  But how unique is Flint, really?  A key proximate cause of the lead contamination is a badly decaying water carrying infrastructure – a condition plaguing urban areas, large and small, in the “rust belt” and outside it, all over the country.  Is Flint unique, or just first?  We can only neglect fundamental conditions of  sanitation and safety before human health starts to suffer – often in painfully dramatic fashion.

Dr. Michael Forster

CoH Dean’s Council Should Be Busy in 2016

I spent some productive time yesterday afternoon with Ryan Kelly, current chair of my Dean’s Council (external supporters/advisory group), looking ahead to 2016.  There’s a lot on the agenda, including formation of three core Council committees – in “workforce data,” “professional development,” and “fund-raising.”  The intent is to boost engagement of Council around issues of importance to the CoH in ways that substantially advances the mission.  In addition to new member recruitment, and near-certainty that we’ll sponsor another innovative “Health Summit” by summer, I look forward to a busy and exciting spring under Mr. Kelly’s leadership.

Dr. Michael Forster

Great progress toward new College of Health/College of Business building at Gulf Park

Since so many things do not go as either planned or hoped for, it’s quite refreshing when they do.  Such is the case with the planning for a new College of Health/College of Business building on the Gulf Park campus.

Work with colleagues in CoB, VP Steve Miller, and the architect group McCarty and Associates could hardly have gone more smoothly, as we’ve worked our way through the phases of planning the new structure, which will include first-floor classrooms and second-floor faculty and administrative offices.

I tend to mix up my document names, but I believe we have now successfully navigated the waters of “Schematic Design” and “Design Development,” leaving McCarty to craft the detailed “Construction Documents” that will guide the actual building process.

Oh, if we could only report similar progress with the Joseph Greene Hall project on the Hattiesburg campus!  The contrast between the two building tales is not quite one of tortoise and hare – but the analogy is not too far off.

Dr. Michael Forster

Paris climate talks commence against backdrop of worldwide anxiety and protest

The Paris talks on climate action by the world’s nations start today in the shadow of the recent terrorist attacks.  It’s safe to say that anxiety is running high, for a number of reasons.

To be sure, Parisian/French security concerns, with scores of diplomats gathering in one place, are at center stage.  Scheduled public demonstrations by groups pressing for strong climate action have been banned, and for the most part the ban has been respected by climate activists.

But anxiety is apparent elsewhere, as well, with large popular demonstrations demanding climate action cropping up across the globe.  As climate scientists attest that destructive climate change is already well underway – melting glaciers and massive storms get top billing, but damaging health effects due to ecological disruption are also coming more and more into news focus – the sense that “time is running out” appears to be gaining in the popular consciousness.

If so, it is arriving none too soon.

Dr. Michael Forster

Steve Moser takes the academic helm as provost and senior vice-president

It was a tough slog reaching this point, but President Bennett selected Steve Moser, former dean of the sprawling and diverse College of Arts & Letters, as the “new” provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs.

Steve can hardly be considered “new,” of course.  Not only had he served as interim provost since Denis Wiesenburg’s departure from the post in mid-summer (and for all practical purposes, at least for a month prior to that), but he has a decade of combined dean and associate dean experience under his belt, and at least double that as a USM faculty member.  So he certainly knows the institution better than most, and if anyone deserves to claim “I bleed black-and-gold,” it’s Steve; he’s proved it by his long and dedicated service to our plucky but often sputtering institution.

Now a new chapter opens.  Dr. Moser has the deans scheduled for an all-day planning retreat on December 15, a prelude, I hope, to grappling with long-lingering critical issues, such as putting academic affairs budgets aright.  That can’s been kicked down the road so long it’s hardly even recognizable as a can any longer.  Time to turn the page on that one, for sure.