Departing UWM Dean Says Budget Cuts "Sober the Vision" for School of Public Health

Jun 30, 2015

Although UW-Milwaukee's Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health is still in its fledgling stages, the school has already begun to make a difference.

Now the school is starting the process of looking for new leadership. After leading the school through its formative years, founding Dean Magda Peck is stepping down July 1. 

"When I arrived here, one of the most frequent questions I got was, 'what's public health?' And after three and a half years of intensive conversations and engagements and partnerships and action, what I now hear is ''oh, public health is a really important issue,'" Peck says.

Peck says that the school started off as a fabulous idea that wasn't that well understood and wasn't much in demand. The school has seen tremendous growth - growing from under 20 to over 100 students, 12 to 25 faculty members, $500,00 to $7 million in its research portfolio.

Peck says the school is working. "We have community partnerships around infant mortality, food security and mental health," she says. "We are part of the landscape." 

She says she went into the position knowing it would be a 3 to 5 year stint. "Frankly, that's what founding deans are supposed to do. It's to come fast and quick and get folks to work as hard as they can, as well as they can, as long as they can," Peck says.

Although the school has had great influence and accomplishments in its short existence, the unprecedented budget cuts have altered Peck's initial trajectory for the school. Peck admits the path she anticipated is not practical in the current climate, but has faith that the school will continue to succeed.

"There has been no new resources, except to support some of the new building..., not a single new dollar coming from the state. So we stretched and created and were incredibly efficient with the dollars we were allocated on campus," she says.

"Now that we’re facing unprecedented budget cuts, the meteoric and extraordinarily innovative trajectory I had anticipated for the Zilber School is just not terribly practical," Peck says. "And, so it sobers the vision - it doesn't change it - but it probably is going to have a different pathway so it's a good time to have a different kind of leader... during this time of duress."

Peck says she will stay in Milwaukee, at least for the immediate future, to ramp up her consulting business.