Fourth Decade: Maintaining Preeminence

The Carolina Population Center was stable and strong as its fourth decade commenced. Director Ron Rindfuss had grown the Center's infrastructure to provide increased computer services, and introduced the application of spatial and graphics services to the Center's research. The portfolio of projects — both big and small — was impressive.

CPC's first Director, Moye Wicks Freymann, died in March of 1996. After his directorship ended in 1974, he remained a faculty member of Health Administration and affiliated with CPC until his death. CPC held a memorial service in his honor. Freymann's wife, Katherine, established an endowment for the CPC Library to acquire population-related materials and to make them available to population researchers.

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Rindfuss resigned from the directorship in 1997, when his five-year appointment ended. He continued to be involved in Center activities, and remains a Fellow today. Amy Tsui, who was Deputy Director under Udry from 1987 until 1991, and who was Principal Investigator of the Evaluation Project until 1997, was appointed Director.

Tsui's familiarity with the Center (she had served as a visiting scholar, a research associate, a Fellow, and Deputy Director) was certainly an asset in the director position. Her leadership was tapped immediately, upon learning that the University's Provost formed a "Committee on the Organizational Locus of Research Centers in Health Affairs." The committee's charge was to examine the placement of the University's research centers within the larger University organizational chart, and to recommend any changes of the reporting lines of each center director. CPC had always reported to the Vice Provost (previously the Vice Chancellor) for Health Affairs. When that position was eliminated in 1997, Tsui reported to the Associate Provost for Health Affairs.

The potential implications of a change in reporting lines could have placed CPC within a school and departmental structure, and thus compromised the long-standing independent nature of the Center. Thankfully, that change was not made. The Center Director now reports to the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development.

Tsui, a Professor in Maternal and Child Health, fostered linkages with the Schools of Public Health and Medicine. At CPC, she introduced a Biomedical Services core to facilitate the incorporation of biomedical markers into population research. While the Center had supported projects that had collected biological specimens since the 1980s, this core provided an infrastructure for projects to consider such activities.

entwisle_director_2002.jpg At the end of 2001, Tsui resigned as Director and left the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a position at Johns Hopkins University. In January 2002, J. Richard Udry became Acting Director until a new director could be recruited. Barbara Entwisle, CPC Fellow and Professor of Sociology, was appointed Director in September 2002.

Entwisle's main challenge was to encourage continued growth and innovation in an increasingly difficult funding environment. Within the first few years of her term, three events resulted in reduced funds for infrastructure support and project start-up. First, NIH ended the doubling of its budget. Paylines sank as competition for funds increased. Priority scores that had been competitive during the doubling (e.g., 175) were no longer "in the money." Second, there was a change in the mechanism of NICHD support for population centers, from the P30 to the R24. Although CPC still receives more NICHD infrastructure support than any other center, the funds are substantially less under the R24 than under the P30. Finally, for many years, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation had supported CPC's research and training program, especially its international components. The Hewlett Foundation decided in 2005 to focus their support exclusively on programs based in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Mellon Foundation ended their support in 2006 for population research and training at CPC and elsewhere.

Entwisle was very familiar with the Center, having been a Fellow since 1985. Her goal was to plan and arrange for these cuts in a way that would minimize their impact. Efficiencies were achieved through reorganization of some services, and she also applied for and received new monies to cover infrastructure.

Over her term, and beginning with Tsui's term (1997–2002), the age distribution of the Fellows "younged" as assistant and associate professors were brought into the Fellows program. The newer Fellows contributed in a positive way to the Center as they were trained in the latest research techniques, they brought new ideas, and their research agendas began to be established by new proposals and new research. The concept of population research had broadened over the years, and new Fellows could conceptualize their research from a more wide-ranging perspective. There was little change in the numbers of Fellows because of losses through retirement, death, change in research focus, or moves to other institutions.

benson_beijing.jpg The large-scale research projects continued, including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health; the China Health and Nutrition Survey; Nang Rong Projects; Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey; the Pregnancy, Infection, and Nutrition Study; and the National Children's Study in 2005. Measure Evaluation Phase II was awarded by USAID in 2003, extending the project another five years. By the end of CPC's fourth decade, CPC earned funding for two NIH Roadmap initiatives, which encourage interdisciplinary approaches to research.

Entwisle provided support for the renovation of the CPC library to make the physical space more appealing to users and to encourage increased use of the space. She also provided support for the renovation of the Center's largest meeting space, room 405 of University Square East, making it state-of-the-art with internet access, a variety of new projection technologies, and a modular approach to meeting space.

The training program saw changes, too. CPC was awarded a highly competitive National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant in population and environment (the only one at UNC). CPC was also given an NIH MENTOR award for its main training grant from NICHD, resulting in increased slots.

Under the stewardship of Training Coordinator Jan Hendrickson-Smith, the training program grew to its largest since 1979 when NIH awarded its first T32 NICHD National Research Service Award. In 2006–07, CPC provides support to a total of 66 trainees, 51 predoctoral trainees, and 15 postdoctoral scholars. Its graduates hold positions around the country, and around the globe. Regrettably, as a result of changes in foundation priorities, funding for international trainees has all but ceased to be available.

In 2005, Entwisle directed a reorganization of the Center's infrastructure, which resulted in the creation of a Research Services unit, while the Administrative unit, led by Tom Heath, saw few changes. Research Services encompasses many services that were previously known as core services: Computer Services, Information Services, and Spatial Analysis. The proposal processing function, previously part of the Administrative unit, joined Research Services as Reporting and Proposal Services. Biomedical Services, Statistical Services, and Spatial Analysis provide consulting services to projects.

This reorganization reactivated the position of Deputy Director into the Center's structure, by the appointment of Nancy Dole as Deputy Director for Research Services. Dole provides leadership to and oversight of Research Services, which also includes: Data Support Services, Library, Publications and Graphics, Research Programming, Systems and User Services, and Web Services. Research Services encourages greater collaboration and efficiency in providing streamlined support to CPC projects.

One of the hallmarks of CPC is the continuity of its people. In 2006, there were 57 Fellows, eleven of whom were part of the pool of 33 original Fellows appointed by Udry in 1977, and many others came to CPC in the first decade. The purpose and responsibility of the Fellows program remains almost identical to Udry's vision of it in 1977. The Advisory Council that he developed that same year also remains in existence, again in virtually the same model and make-up as he designed it. 

The mission of CPC is to support the population research and training interests of the elected faculty Fellows. Much of the support is provided by dedicated and talented professional staff members who support the research of Fellows and contribute to the training of the new population researchers.

The 40th anniversary of CPC marks a time when many of those who were present during or knowledgeable of the beginning years of CPC are able to contribute to the development of this historical research project. Knowing the Center's beginnings, exploring its mission and dedication to population research and training, and learning about its progression into the Center that it is today, is beneficial for the Center's future Fellows, trainees, and staff who will address the research problems of the next decades. It is also of interest to other scholars and researchers in the population field, and to other population centers around the world.

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