Professor's gifts recognize top talent in biostatistics

michael kutner

Rollins Professor emeritus Michael Kutner is creating an endowment to support an outstanding junior faculty member in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, which he led as chair for several years.

A natural leader, statistician Michael Kutner likes a challenge and has a powerful drive to make the world a better place.

These traits have shaped his career and inspired him to become a philanthropist.

In addition to establishing two funds that bear his name, he is making a bequest to his home department—biostatistics and bioinformatics at Rollins—to create an endowment to support an outstanding junior faculty member.

"I'm doing this because I feel committed to building what I think is a worthy cause and that our department is worth investing in," he says.

For more than 35 years, he has invested in his department and the future of public health and health care by teaching, determining the best treatments for disease, and building the RSPH. Now the retired department chair is taking on a final challenge: "I'm working hard to get Emory to invest in multicenter clinical trials by recruiting people who can lead them," he says. "It's my swan song."

 Kutner began his career by teaching math at a Virginia liberal arts college. Although he loved teaching, he soon decided that he wanted to undertake research and develop new techniques for solving problems. He was recruited to the doctoral program at Texas A&M University and received a faculty fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Though the level of mathematics was higher than anything he had attempted, he rose to the challenge.

Discovering a passion for biostatistics, Kutner took as many classes as he could. Biostatistics offered him the opportunity to apply his statistical skills to real-world problems—and help solve them. While physicians understood biology, disease, and medical treatment, they needed help to design experiments and analyze the results. By collaborating with physicians, Kutner could improve medical practice and help patients.

Kutner joined Emory's fledgling Department of Biometry and Statistics in the School of Medicine in 1971 because it offered a perfect balance of teaching, collaborative work, and research, as well as the chance to develop the department. Ever attracted to a challenge and the opportunity to contribute, he played a key role in establishing the school of public health. When Emory approved its formation in 1990, he became director of the new biostatistics division and the first associate dean for academic affairs. He helped form the organizational structure of the school and secure its initial accreditation.

After his successes at Emory, Kutner took on another challenge and left to build the biostatistics and epidemiology department at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in 1994. He tripled the number of faculty members and secured the department's academic reputation. In 2000, he returned to Rollins and subsequently served as Rollins Professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics from 2004 to 2009.

Honored with many awards himself—most recently, the Charles R. Hatcher Jr. M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Health—he previously endowed the Michael H. Kutner Fund to support outstanding doctoral students and the Michael H. Kutner Award in Biostatistics to recognize distinguished RSPH graduates. His most recent gift—the endowed fund—is the culmination of his life's work.

Knowing the importance of endowed funds for attracting and retaining top talent, Kutner hopes once again to lead the way.

"If enough people are willing to support Emory," he says, "it can really make a difference."—Yael D Sherman 08PhD

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