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July 15, 2004

Public health professors lead values and society program

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The Life Sciences, Values and Society Program (LSVSP) has new leaders who plan to expand the cross-campus initiative exploring the ethical and societal questions raised by advances in science.

Sharon Kardia, associate professor of epidemiology, and Toby Citrin, adjunct professor of health management and policy, both at the School of Public Health, now co-direct the program, which began in 1999.

They have considerable backgrounds in the complex issues of genetics and genomics. Kardia is director of the Public Health Genetics Program, and Citrin heads the Michigan Center for Genomics and Public Health, with Kardia as co-director.

Kardia and Citrin's proposal for an enhanced values and society program builds on the sorts of things the program has done already—a speaker series and a seed grant program, for example—and spells out increased programmatic efforts during the next three years, including the addition of undergraduate programming and graduate student training opportunities.

"We are hoping to expand the mission of the Life Sciences, Values and Society Program to focus on new educational and research opportunities to connect complex science and the diverse value systems of society," Kardia said. "We need to build better bridges between the logics and languages of science and the humanities."

Kardia and Citrin follow Richard Lempert, who recently stepped down as director, and Amy Sheon, who was associate director.

"I will always regard the founding and directing of the LSVSP as a highlight of my career at Michigan. In partnership with Amy Sheon and with the help of a superbly competent and dedicated staff, we built a unique program that involved all sectors of the university in the conundrums and excitement of genomic revolution and contemporary life sciences," said Lempert, the Eric Stein Distinguished University Professor of Law and Sociology. Lempert is on leave from U-M, serving as division director for the Social and Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation.

"Running LSVSP has been enormously rewarding, especially seeing students blossoming and faculty beginning to engage in the issues we raise," said Sheon, now associate director of the Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society. "And expanding the impact of the program among undergraduates is an exciting new direction for the program. Although the decision to pursue another opportunity was a difficult one, I leave confident that the LSVSP is finding a wonderful home in the School of Public Health."

Under their leadership, LSVSP spearheaded the Ann Arbor Reads program, encouraging people throughout the community to read and discuss "Abraham Lincoln's DNA and Other Adventures in Genetics"; teamed with the U-M Health System's Gifts of Arts Program and University Musical Society to host events featuring art and performance with scientific and ethical topics; and provided support for the 7th Annual National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference, which took place at U-M in March.

The Office of the Provost approved funding for the values and society program in its expanded form.

"Rapid advances in the life sciences have raised such significant ethical, legal and social implications that the University simply must link science with the expertise of the humanities, social sciences, public policy and the law," Provost Paul N. Courant said. "Up until now, LSVSP has played a very important role of bringing together scientists, social scientists, artists, humanists and the public to consider these broad implications and deepen our understanding of the consequences of the thrilling scientific discoveries of the life sciences.

"In its next stage of life in its new home within the School of Public Health, I expect the program to evolve and flourish. The new co-directors will focus on educational and research initiatives at this important intersection of science and society," Courant said. "The program will retain its cross-campus reach and its mission to engage diverse disciplines in understanding the social and value implications of progress in life science research."

LSVSP website: http://www.lifesciences.umich.edu/values/

Contact: Colleen Newvine
Phone: (734) 647-4411
E-mail: cnewvine@umich.edu