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Dr. Michael C. Lu reappointed to second term as Public Health dean

Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Ben Hermalin announced today that Dean Michael C. Lu has been reappointed as dean of UC Berkeley School of Public Health for a second five-year term.

“Please join us in congratulating Dean Lu on his reappointment and successes,” they said in a campus announcement. “Already known around campus by colleagues for his collaborative approach and effective leadership in tackling shared challenges and initiatives, Dean Lu will continue to succeed at the helm of Berkeley Public Health over this next term.”

A renowned obstetrician-gynecologist and public health leader, Lu is widely recognized for his research on perinatal health disparities. From 2012 to 2017, he served as director of the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau. In that role, he led federal programs that served more than 60 million children and families and launched new national initiatives on women’s preventive services, early childhood home visiting, and safe motherhood. His federal leadership earned him the coveted Hubert H. Humphrey Service to America Award.

Revitalizing Berkeley Public Health

When Lu started his first term as dean in 2019, the school had been in a state of decline. It had lost nearly a quarter of its ladder-rank faculty and staff in the preceding five years, and closed the fiscal year in deficit in all but one of those years.

The state of the school shaped Lu’s priority during his first term, which was devoted to reinvigorating Berkeley Public Health. Under his leadership, the school has become bigger, better, and financially more secure. He was successful in recruiting more than 30 outstanding new faculty who have been instrumental to the renaissance of the school. In addition, staff grew by 20% and student enrollment increased by 16% over the past five years.

The school has become better by most measures, from faculty success and student experience to academic excellence and operational competencies to climate and culture. But the one accomplishment that Lu is most proud of is that the school has become more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and antiracist. During his tenure, more than half of the school’s new faculty came from historically underrepresented backgrounds, and the proportion of underrepresented students nearly doubled in the past five years.

Dean Lu has also steered the school from perennial budget deficits to four consecutive years of surplus through a combination of improved fiscal management and increased revenue generation, including raising $110 million in philanthropic support.

Leading in Times of Crisis

Chancellor Christ and EVCP Hermalin praised Lu for his steady leadership in times of crisis. Less than a year into his first term, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Amidst the worst public health crisis of the century, he rallied the school to answer the call to provide crucial public health leadership to the UC Berkeley campus as well as to our local, national, and global communities. He also committed to no staff layoffs or tuition increases during the COVID crisis, secured additional student aid, and expanded faculty support to assure continuity of the school’s world class education and research.

A few months later, George Floyd was murdered. In the ensuing national and global reckoning with racial injustice, Lu rallied the school community to launch a schoolwide antiracism initiative. The school instituted antiracism trainings, expanded antiracism curricula, and reformed practices and policies.

“Dean Lu is an inspirational and visionary leader. He has a talent for seeing the big picture,” said former Public Health Executive Associate Dean Amani M. Nuru-Jeter.

“Less than a year into his deanship, Dean Lu named social inequality as one of the ‘most pressing issues of our time.’ He made it a focus of his leadership at Berkeley Public Health. Walking the talk, this included new faculty hires across public health disciplines, a bold proclamation of racism as a significant determinant of health, and an institution-wide antiracist change initiative within the school.”

Through the recent strike and strife on campus, he held the school community together with his call for community and compassion.

“Dean Lu has been open, transparent and empathic in managing the very diverse needs of our community during a difficult few years,” said Public Health Executive Associate Dean Julianna Deardorff. “I’ve been so impressed with the thoughtfulness and care he demonstrates for our students, faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders as he navigates these challenges.”

Innovating, Changemaking, and Arc-Bending

Dean Michael C. Lu shakes hands with Rep. John Lewis.

Dean Michael C. Lu with his hero, US Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis.

During his first term, Lu led the school community in a collective visioning of where it wants to be in 2030, which resulted in a new strategic plan that united the community around three goals: innovating, changemaking, and arc-bending.

In research, the school aspires to become the innovation hub of the world in public health, innovating solutions to four of the most pressing public health challenges of our time: climate change, pandemic threats, chronic diseases, and social inequality. It will do so by investing in human capital, promoting transdisciplinary collaboration, and accelerating translation to impact.

In education, the school aspires to become the best school in the world for public health changemakers, preparing current and future public health workforce to help change the world. Key strategies include assuring comprehensive excellence, training students on changemaking, and upskilling current public health workforce—locally and globally—through online and executive education.

In service, the school aspires to become the best school of public health in the world for social impact, helping to bend the arc of the moral universe toward health equity and social justice. It will do so by advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, justice (DEIBJ) and antiracism, strengthening community engagement, and building a strong culture and ecosystem for social impact.

Lu has already made significant strides in advancing these goals during his first term, with key accomplishments including:

Lu gives much credit and gratitude to faculty, staff, and students, as well as alums, donors, and his leadership team and advisory board for his successes in the first term. “These accomplishments are not my individual accomplishments; they are the collective accomplishments of our community,” Lu adds. “These goals are not my goals alone; they represent our collective vision and aspirations for the future of Berkeley Public Health.”

Goals for a Second Term

Looking forward, Lu has three goals for his second term:

“First, leave the house much stronger than when I came in,” Lu said in an interview. “We’ve built a strong foundation, but there’s more to do.” Among his top priorities is to assure the school’s long-term financial health by growing and diversifying its revenue streams, and securing a transformational naming gift for the school.

“Second, continue to lead the school through future crises and challenges in ways that are consistent with our community values.” Lu hopes that “with every crisis, we become a better version of ourselves.”

“Third, continue to advance our mission and vision and scale our impact in the world through the research we do, students we educate, and societal change we help bring about,” Lu said. “Ultimately, I accepted a second term because I still believe in the power of universities to solve big problems and change the world,” he added with great pride. “And Berkeley can lead the way.”