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Barbara Rimer steps down as dean of Gillings, but isn't leaving UNC

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Dr. Barbara K. Rimer will conclude her service as dean of the Gillings School on June 30, 2022. Photo courtesy of Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Seventeen years after becoming the dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Barbara Rimer is stepping down from her role on June 30, 2022. 

But Rimer is not saying farewell to UNC. She will remain on the Gillings faculty, where she began her career in 1992. 

Rimer’s impact reaches far beyond academics. Her continuous support of faculty and students is widely recognized by those around her. 

Andrew Olshan — chairperson of the Gillings epidemiology department from 2006 to 2018 — said he worked alongside Rimer on broad initiatives, including curriculum issues and funding. 

Throughout her time at UNC. Olshan said that Rimer worked tirelessly to hire renowned faculty, admit extraordinary students and assist staff in award-winning work. 

“With Barbara as its leader, Gillings was ranked the No. 1 public school of public health and tied for second overall three consecutive times by U.S. News & World Report, pulling ahead to stand alone in second place in 2021,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement.

Guskiewicz also said that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rimer amplified fact-based health communications, supported the expansion of the school’s student emergency relief fund and aided in the creation of virtual support pods.

Gillings underwent many structural changes under Rimer, Olshan said. The master of public health degree was overhauled to make it more interdisciplinary and efficient in an effort to attract more students to the school. 

Rimer also helped to increase fundraising, which enhanced education and opportunities. Specifically, a gift from the Gillings family enabled the Department of Epidemiology to recruit top researchers and mentors in the country. 

“She’s done an exceptional job with fundraising, which is hard to do, even during tough, national economic times. Her leadership for fundraising for the school has been really critical,” Olshan said. 

Rimer has made noticeable strides to foster a more inclusive, diverse academic community, he said. 

Olshan said that, before the issues of social justice were at the forefront of public attention, Rimer worked to recruit faculty members and admit students from underrepresented groups starting four years ago, when the school hired Kauline Cipriani as the school’s first dean for inclusive excellence. Jeffrey Sims now serves in the role as interim. 

Developing an inclusive action plan is one of her proudest accomplishments in her time at Gillings, Rimer said.

As dean, Rimer said she spent time collaborating with students in order to foster a positive community and improve Gillings.

Julia Nevison, a second-year in the masters of healthcare administration program at Gillings, has worked closely with Rimer in her role as the co-president of the Gillings School Student Government Association since May 2020.

Nevison said she met with Rimer and her team regularly to discuss the state of Gillings and student concerns. Rimer is very receptive to feedback and is diligent about acting on concerns, she said. 

“She was always very intentional about hearing input from students before making any school-wide decisions,” Nevison said. 

Nevison also noted that Rimer created an inclusive, psychologically-safe environment where there was mutual respect between faculty and students. 

Although Rimer is stepping down from her role as dean, Olshan said her influence on Gillings and the public health education field will continue.

“Relationships always matter," Rimer said. "You have to pay enough attention to people, and you have to listen to people." 

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