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Jonathan Fielding Dedication Remarks

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Family, friends, and colleagues, on behalf of the Fielding and Barter families, thank you for this magnificent reception. We are humbled. We share this honor with all of you working to improve the public’s health and reduce the burden of disease and injury.

You epitomize Einstein’s belief that “only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” Whether you are in public health practice, education or research, you give something precious to the task, --- time, ideas, energy, and commitment.

Of course fulfilling the far-reaching mission of our School requires commensurate financial resources. Past is the time when a great public university can be adequately resourced without private support. Today we live in a world of hybrids----I drive one, our dog is one, and this university has become a public-private hybrid. With shrinking state allocations to higher education, private resources matter more than ever. We thank all of you who have contributed whatever you can, and hope that our investment will inspire others.

Karin and I would not be standing before you today were it not for the encouragement and counsel of great friends. Dr. Lester Breslow, beloved Dean Emeritus, who recruited us to UCLA, has been an inspirational mentor. A fortuitous but felicitous investment in David Booth’s company gave us the ability to contribute far beyond our expectations. Ric Kayne encouraged us and showed how it was possible to fulfill our dream of providing enduring support for the School. Peter Mullin gently reminded us that giving with warm hands is more rewarding than with cold hands. We thank them, the UCLA Foundation, the Chancellor and his senior team for their welcoming spirit and facilitation. Our special thanks to Dean Linda Rosenstock. The timing of this investment acknowledges her important and lasting legacy.

Giving away money well isn’t easy. Service on the Boards of several large Foundations convinced me that it is as hard or harder to give well than even to successfully lead a large public or private organization.

So, given these trepidations, why did our family feel comfortable making our once-in-a-lifetime donation to UCLA’s School of Public Health?

For three reasons.

First, we know the high caliber of its students, its faculty, and its leadership. We wanted to honor that.

Second, the mission of the School reflects an imaginative and expansive vision both locally and globally. The Los Angeles area has among the greatest ethnic and racial and economic diversity in the nation and the full range of public health challenges. Looking ahead our nation will increasingly resemble the Los Angeles of today. And in an era of globalized health threats, we are the American gateway to and from Latin America and Asia.

Third, we are convinced that public health principles illuminate the most promising pathways to improve health for all of us. Surprisingly, on most counts the U.S. lags behind other developed countries – in health status, life expectancy, and the toll of serious chronic diseases – and, worse, we are slipping further and further behind. In addition, we have huge health disparities. Take this startling example: An African-American male in Los Angeles County lives, on average, 18 fewer years than an Asian female.

Public health realizes that to improve health and reduce these vast disparities requires altering the underlying social, economic and physical environments that largely determine our individual and collective health trajectory, from infancy and even before, to old age. And we realize that a healthier population is essential for this nation to gain economic strength and be globally competitive.

Karin and I think of our financial contribution less as a gift than an investment. An investment because we fully expect a high rate of return.

How will we know? In a number of ways:

  • When our student body fully mirrors the great diversity of our local and global communities, and when our school boundaries are defined by needs and opportunities rather than bricks and mortar.
  • When every high achieving, mission inspired, applicant can afford to matriculate at our School.
  • When every student gets to experience the excitement of public health practice first hand.
  • When all students consider themselves members of our extended School of Public Health family – for their entire careers, with coaching, mentoring, continuing education and networking all routinely available.
  • When every alumnus and alumna accepts the responsibility of mentoring at least one new graduate.
  • When our School is the preferred choice for the most inspirational teachers, and for faculty committed to translating research into policies and programs that move the needle on population health.
  • We will know when the curriculum evolves in response to frequent assessments of what students need to succeed after graduation. And when the curriculum includes more trans-disciplinary courses, and those oriented to real world problem solving. And when our School is a celebrated innovator in distance and active learning.
  • When every faculty member is not only celebrated for contributions to theory and research, but as a change agent, whose work contributes to a demonstrable difference in the current and future health of populations.
  • And when as faculty we define ourselves first as professors of public health rather than by discipline, to reflect our shared broad purpose and mission.

And we will know when each faculty member and student is engaged in multi-disciplinary projects drawing from different departments and schools…from public affairs, medicine, social sciences, management, education, law, design and the physical sciences. And when there are sustained partnerships with outside organizations that add value---public health departments; voluntary, professional, and community based organizations in many sectors—such as transportation, housing, social services and food insecurity.

Our School has a health enhancement mission that all can embrace. But very few Americans understand that the major determinants of our health are our social, physical and economic environments. Until policy makers understand this, progress will be inadequate. The greatest successes of public health are invisible – people are not injured, do not become sick, and do not die prematurely. The best guarantee of strong support for public health education and practice is removing the cloak of invisibility over what we do and increasing recognition of the high value of public health investments—like clean water, safe food, cleaner air, less smoking, fewer cases of vaccine preventable diseases, and safer environments for all.

Nobody chooses a public health career for glory or the money, nor expects gratitude from those whose health they safeguarded. But the health of our children, our grandchildren, and our global village, demands a higher priority for our work in the public interest. And remember, as Shakespeare gave voice through Juliet, “The more I give, the more I have, for both are infinite.”

Thank you