Dean's Update

January 8, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


It is a new year, but so far, I am not a fan. Insurrection, record COVID-19 deaths, some remote recollection about trying to “find” 11,000 votes - it’s been a long week. Our country struggles with truth telling, and it is pretty hard to advance the modern enterprise of providing for the general welfare when telling the truth about COVID-19, racism, climate change, and the elections is, somehow, a challenge. It is hard to make progress, and our inability to tell the truth is a sign of moral failure, disastrous nihilism, and horrible leadership.

Across the country, COVID-19 cases and mortality have reached record levels with continued inequity leaving African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans with disproportionately higher disease burdens and death rates compared with Whites. One week into 2021 and I’m just angry.

Well, I am not angry about everything. I am happy to announce the successful accomplishment of a couple of leadership searches completed since the last dean’s update:

  • Sean Valles, PhD, starts today as the Director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences. Dr. Valles comes to us from the History, Philosophy, & Sociology program at Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Philosophy, where he is the Director of Graduate Studies. He has recently published a book, Philosophy of Population Health: Philosophy for a New Public Health Era with Routledge and a recent paper on social determinants of health and health disparities. I look forward to working with him as the center develops and the college continues its national leadership in social determinants of health and health disparities. I want to thank Len Fleck for stepping in as interim director and the whole of the center’s faculty and staff for their perseverance and dedication during the search process.
  • Narayanan (“Nara”) Parameswaran is now our Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Development after serving about a year as interim. He has done a great job as interim, bringing our teams together, helping move reappointment, promotion, and tenure cases forward, and working to improve how we do yearly reviews of chairs and leaders. He will continue his work in the lab and teaching, and I am delighted he is willing to take on this additional work.

In other good news, our partners in each of our communities are making progress on vaccinating our students. Some of the vaccinations will be through hospitals and some will be through county health departments. This is so important, and I thank our partners for all they have done to help us get COVID-19 vaccines for our students.

And to further improve my mood, the Early Detection Program (Spartan Spit) is back up and running after some retooling over the holidays. Starting next week, we will be able to provide testing in Grand Rapids. This expansion to Grand Rapids is possible in part because the college is making weekly saliva testing mandatory for first- and second-year students this semester. The Academic Affairs team and Brian Jespersen, of CHM Operations and logistics leader for the saliva program, have done great work putting together this expansion. Allyson Cole-Strauss and Joe Patterson have earned my deep admiration for leading the lab and lab expansion! I imagine we will find some ways to make the experience better in the first couple of weeks, but we have a great program. My thanks to everyone who has helped make this possible.

On New Year’s Day the world sweeps through about 1% of its yearly orbit around the sun, the earth spins once, the successes and ills of our governments, organizations, and families persist. And therefore, we too have to persist. More to the point, if the world is going to get better, we (I am looking at myself on this one) are going to have let go of some of our anger and shock and persist in all that we do with love and energy. It feels like a tall order.

But somehow, we need to persist with love and energy, even when we are separated from each other and so very tired. We have to persist in all that we do with patience and courage, even when time is so clearly short and courage seems like too much to ask. We have to be our very best selves when times are so frightening and isolating and unyielding.

I am proud of how the staff, faculty, and students of the College of Human Medicine have so often been their best selves during these crises. I am so proud of our scientists and scientific staff, of our education staff and faculty, of our clinicians and medical students who have taken care of thousands of COVID-19 patients, day in and day out across the state.

We have done great work in the last year, and we will persist in this year, because the world will continue to orbit the sun, the earth will spin, and the successes and ills of the world will persist. We are fortunate to have the chance to make the world a better place for everyone. I think this is why we as a college exist – we are here to make the world a better place and we do this every day.

Wear your mask, spatially distance, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, get vaccinated when you can.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean 

Read more from the Dean's Update archive