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Dean Sommer to Step Down

By Brian W. Simpson

After leading the School through 15 years of dramatic growth, Dean Alfred Sommerwill step down from his position in September 2005 to return to his nutrition and health policy research.

“When I was first appointed the School’s Dean in 1990, I expected to hold the position for 5 years, 10 at most,” said Sommer, MD, MHS ’73. “More experienced colleagues predicted it would take longer to make a lasting difference—5 years to discover what needed to be done and another 10 years to do it.”

Among the lasting differences he made during his tenure: the School’s endowment grew from $32 million to $160 million, full-time faculty have almost doubled in number to 500, and the School’s Wolfe Street building has doubled in size.

The news surprised many at the School, coming just days after a major celebration of the completion of the final teaching and research wing. “I was privileged to participate in dramatic growth in the School’s facilities, research initiatives, educational programs, and prominence; capped on April 23 by the rededication of the School and a celebration of nine decades of remarkable contributions to global health,” wrote Sommer in an email announcement to faculty and students. "After 15 years, the time will have come for a new Dean, with new energy and new vision.”

Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody hailed Sommer’s achievements in a University-wide announcement. “As dean, he has guided research and educational initiatives that are making literally a world of difference,” wrote Brody. “…I want to say now that I am grateful for his outstanding service to the School, to the University and to humanity.”

Characteristically, the dean said he intends to vigorously continue his work until he steps down a year and a half from now. By the end of the summer, he expects a search committee to be evaluating a list of candidates.

Largely thanks to Sommer’s groundbreaking vitamin A research, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and their partners today provide 400 million vitamin A supplements to children around the world, saving literally hundreds of thousands of lives each year. For his work, he received the Lasker Medical Research Award in 1997.