Food policy expert Kelly Brownell has been named the new Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, following a search lasting more than a year.
Brownell—who will replace Bruce Kuniholm—currently serves as director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. At Yale, he is also the James Rowland Angell professor of psychology and professor of epidemiology and public health. He has researched obesity extensively and is one of the leading authorities on obesity and related public health issues in the United States. He will assume the dean position July 1.
The appointment of Brownell settles the question of who will replace Kuniholm, a question which remained unanswered since his August 2011 announcement that he would step down at the end of that academic year. That timeline was delayed last Spring when an initial search committee chaired by Helen Ladd, Edgar T. Thompson distinguished professor of public policy sent a shortlist to President Richard Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange. The University offered the job to a candidate who declined the position.
The second search committee, chaired by Elizabeth Frankenberg, professor of public policy and sociology, began its work Summer 2012. They decided the combination of Brownell’s body of research and scholarly publications as well as his experience as a professor made him an extremely qualified candidate, Frankenberg said.
“He’s an incredible scholar with an outstanding record of publications and he’s been very actively involved in public policy debates,” Frankenberg said. “Those were two things that we thought were very important. Add to that years of experience with graduate and undergraduate education and a variety of leadership roles in the university setting—he knows how universities work.”
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, noted Brownell’s experience in multiple disciplines.
“His own work … connects public policy, psychology, health, the environment, business and finance and economics,” Schoenfeld said, adding that Brownell’s work has had a direct impact on U.S. public policy.
Time Magazine named Brownell one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2006 for his research linking fast food and soda consumption to childhood obesity and for his efforts to combat obesity. Brownell has published multiple books on obesity and eating habits, in addition to writing several articles for The Atlantic and appearing in the 2012 HBO mini-series “The Weight of the Nation” and the 2004 documentary “Super-Size Me.”
Brownell’s leadership will likely lead to further engagement of Sanford faculty at a broader level, raising the school’s profile.
“He has a very prominent reputation in his field and in the policy engagement of his field,” Lange said. “One of the big priorities will be to seek to further embed Sanford faculty and Sanford’s impact in policy making arenas at the federal level.”
Kuniholm leaves behind an impressive legacy at Sanford, Lange noted.
“Bruce is the founding dean and has done a fabulous job in taking the school from an institute to a school,” Lange said. “He’s sustained the long tradition of excellent teaching in this school, he’s expanded the faculty, he’s built interdisciplinary connections to almost all the other schools of the University, making Sanford a public policy hub, and he’s done that with enormous skill and good humor.”
The search process was a rewarding experience, Frankenberg said, noting that the experience culminated in widespread support for Brownell.
“It was a useful [exercise] for the school to think hard about the different things we valued and wanted to have in a new dean,” Frankenberg said.
The length of the process reflected the depth and breadth of the search, Schoenfield said.
“This was an international search, and when you’re looking among the top people in the field, it can take a while,” he noted.
Likewise, associate professor of public policy Don Taylor noted his satisfaction with the search process.
"The committee worked hard over the summer after the last search failed, allowing initial candidate visits in the Fall, which let the Provost and President 'land the plane' by the end of January,” Taylor wrote in an email Tuesday. “The process this school year is about as fast as a search of this importance can be completed."