Kenneth E. Warner is the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health. He has been on the School's faculty since 1972 and served as Dean from 2005-2010. He was the founding director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network. An economist, Dr. Warner earned his A.B. degree summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1968 and M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University in 1970 and 1974, respectively.
Presented in over 200 professional publications, Dr. Warner's research has focused on economic and policy aspects of disease prevention and health promotion, with a special emphasis on tobacco and health. Dr. Warner served as the Senior Scientific Editor of the 25th anniversary Surgeon General's report on smoking and health. He is on the editorial boards of two professional journals and chairs the board of the international journal, Tobacco Control. He is a consultant to numerous governmental bodies, voluntary organizations, and businesses. In 2001-02 he served as the World Bank's representative to negotiations on the first-ever global health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Dr. Warner was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the American Legacy Foundation and served as President of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in 2004-05. He has testified before the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
On two occasions, Delta Omega, the national public health honorary society, cited Dr. Warner for “outstanding achievement in public health.” In 1989, Dr. C. Everett Koop awarded him the Surgeon General's Medallion. In 1990, he received the Leadership Award of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Section of the American Public Health Association. In 1996, he was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences and was named to the first class of Fellows of the Association for Health Services Research (now AcademyHealth). In 1997, Dr. Warner received the Excellence in Research Award from the UM School of Public Health. In 2002 he received the Richard and Barbara Hansen Leadership Award from the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The same year, he was elected to the University of Michigan Scientific Club, an honorary dating from 1875. In 2003, at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Helsinki, Finland, he received the inaugural award for Outstanding Research Contribution in the international Luther L. Terry Awards for Exemplary Leadership in Tobacco Control. In 2006 he was selected as an Ambassador in the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research, Research!America. In 2010 he received the Alton Ochsner Award Relating Smoking and Health. In 2013 he received the University of Michigan School of Public Health Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2014 Dr. Warner was awarded a Regional World No Tobacco Day Award by the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization. Dr. Warner was a Kellogg National Fellow from 1980 to 1983 and a Visiting Scholar at the National Bureau of Economic Research at Stanford University during 1975-76.
Professionally speaking, I am a UM “lifer”, having served my entire career at this great University. I arrived in 1972 as a 25 year-old ABD. I served as a department chair for nearly 10 years and as Dean of the School of Public Health since 2005. I ended up (and indeed started out) in public health by accident. Trained as an economist, I expected to take a position in an economics department. My very first interview was with the economics department at UM, for a joint appointment with the Institute of Public Policy Studies (IPPS, now the Ford School). I recall walking to the talk with Peter Steiner, then chair of economics and later Dean of LSA. Peter had his arm draped around my shoulder and he said, “Ken, I want you to know that we have a job opening for every candidate we’re interviewing this year.” My talk – my first professional presentation ever – was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did I lack certain expositional skills at the time, but the talk reflected the very preliminary stage of my dissertation research. As we left the presentation, Peter’s arm was no longer draped around my shoulder and he said, “Ken, I want you to understand that we’re interviewing 5 people for this position”!
I ended up at UM only because my dissertation advisor had spoken sufficiently highly of me to the Director of IPPS that the director asked if he could look for a tenure home for me elsewhere in the University. The lure of UM was strong, in part because I had just spent 8 years at what were then all-male Ivy League schools and I had decided that I wanted a position at a first-rate, large, public, research, co-educational university. Indeed, I had set out to land a job at Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, or Michigan. So I accepted the offer of a position as lecturer in the School of Public Health – consistent with my health economics dissertation – with the expectation that once I had finished my dissertation I would transfer to the Economics Department.
Completing the dissertation took another two years. By that point, I had fallen in love with public health and the extraordinary opportunities afforded by an academic career in the field. Throughout graduate school I had considered economics research a form of game-playing, with the players trying to one-up their colleagues by coming up with the most mathematically sophisticated demonstration of a theoretical proposition in economics. I didn’t see a whole lot of direct utility to the work. In public health I found a field that valued applied research, undoubtedly my comparative advantage. Further, in public health one could engage in research that had real-world implications and, when one was lucky, real-world applications. I had the luxury of the academic lifestyle combined with the chance to make a small difference in the world. Differences in public health are ones that matter.
Early on I fell into the field of tobacco policy research, again by accident (a story I won’t relate here). That accident defined my subsequent career. I was one of the very first scholars to apply the tools and insights of economics to the issue of tobacco and health. Because my work was novel, and relevant to the emerging public health and policy debates, it caught the attention of high-level policy makers and politicians, and the tobacco industry. (My red badge of courage is a 4-page letter from tobacco-state (North Carolina) Senator Jesse Helms, written in 1981 to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, asking him to cut off my federal research funding. The letter adorns my office wall today. Shortly thereafter, that same defunding suggestion was submitted by the Tobacco Institute as one of three recommendations it submitted to President Reagan’s Deregulation Commission. I never figured out what in that research frightened the industry so much.)
My career since then has been characterized by a fascinating mix of research, policy advocacy, and travel at home and around the world to address the pandemic of tobacco-produced disease and approaches to diminishing it. In 1988-89, for example, I served as Senior Scientific Editor of the 25th anniversary Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, Dr. C. Everett Koop’s final such report as Surgeon General. It turns out he’s a funny man, not nearly as severe as he appeared in public. Being his friend since then has been a special part of my life. From 1999-2003 I served as a founding member of the Board of Directors of the American Legacy Foundation, the outgrowth of the multistate settlement with the tobacco industry. Legacy produced the edgy “truth” anti-smoking TV ads aimed at reducing youth smoking. Helping to oversee a $100 million/year advertising campaign is certainly not the typical experience of an academic!
As one final example, in 2001-02 I served as the World Bank’s representative to negotiations in Geneva on what became the world’s first global health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In contrast with my normal “business casual” academic attire, I wore a three-piece black suit that, complemented by my white hair, lent me a certain gravitas, I’m told. Armed with a definitive Bank report on the economics of tobacco control, my “interventions” (comments) were often quite influential in the negotiations. Today I have the satisfaction of having contributed to what has become one of the world’s most widely and rapidly adopted treaties on any subject (157 countries having ratified the treaty to date, unfortunately not including the U.S., one of the world’s greatest purveyors of tobacco products). The treaty is contributing to bans on smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and bars – often now in entire countries – and to higher taxation, bans on advertising, etc. – all measures that reduce smoking and its enormous toll of disease and death.
And now I am capping my career here as Dean of SPH. I have come to understand what former President (and Provost and Dean of Engineering) Jim Duderstadt meant when he said that being dean is the most enjoyable job in the University. But all of it – from lecturer through dean – has been fabulous. What could ever top working in such a stimulating environment, with brilliant and collegial colleagues and smart, eager students, all in a highly collaborative environment with the unique breadth and depth of the University of Michigan? There is no career that I would prefer to have had, and no place I would rather have experienced it than at UM.