Curran to step down as dean of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health

Emory Report | April 16, 2021

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James W. Curran joined the Rollins School of Public Health as dean and professor of epidemiology in 1995 following his 25-year career at the CDC.

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James W. Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, has announced his plans to step down as dean. He will continue to remain actively engaged in his position until a new dean is selected and arrives.

The search for a new dean will begin shortly. Linda McCauley, dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Paul Johnson, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, will serve as co-chairs of the search committee. Education Executives, LLC, has been engaged as the search firm.

“Through his decades of dedicated and visionary leadership, Dean Curran has established the Rollins School as a powerhouse in public health,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “He has positioned Rollins faculty, students, and staff to thrive in their lives and careers, and their enormous impact on the world of health and health care is the result of his peerless talent as a leader.”

Curran graduated from the University of Notre Dame and received his MD from the University of Michigan and an MPH from Harvard University. His storied career took a leap forward when in 1981, he accepted a leadership role on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention task force charged with determining what was behind the first cases of what is now known as AIDS. 

A pioneer in HIV/AIDS prevention, Curran led the nation’s efforts in the battle against HIV/AIDS for 15 years before joining Rollins as dean. While at the CDC, he attained the rank of the assistant surgeon general. He has also been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“I am humbled as I reflect on Dean Curran’s leadership and his groundbreaking — and life-saving — work in public health,” says Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, executive vice president for Health Affairs and CEO, Emory Healthcare. “He has led the positive trajectory of the school, its faculty, staff and students with a clear vision for the future, not only for the school, but for public health on a global scale.”

Curran joined the Rollins School of Public Health as dean and professor of epidemiology in 1995 following his 25-year career at the CDC. He also has served as co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research and holds faculty appointments in the Emory School of Medicine and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. In 2009, the Rollins School of Public Health deanship was endowed and named the James W. Curran Dean of Public Health in his honor.

“Jim Curran has been an essential contributor to the Emory experience as a dean, professor, mentor, colleague and friend,” says Jan Love, PhD, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “His vision for the Rollins School of Public Health has been expansive, positioning Emory as a global leader in public health and health sciences, and his investments in students, faculty and staff are exemplified by the indispensable contributions they’ve made through research and public education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

A legacy of growth and global impact

Under Curran’s strategic leadership, Rollins has grown steadily over the past two decades, and is now home to six academic departments, an executive MPH program for working professionals, and, as of 2020, more than 200 full-time faculty. The school also hosts over 22 interdisciplinary centers and 10 dual degree programs that bridge students to related fields such as business, medicine, nursing, law and theology. 

The school now enrolls annual cohorts of approximately 600 public health master’s students from all 50 states and more than 40 countries, with nearly 20 percent originating from outside the U.S. Along with Laney Graduate School, Rollins hosts seven PhD programs. Today, more than 10,000 Rollins alumni are contributing to public health in 104 countries. 

Rollins is ranked No. 4 among accredited schools and programs of public health by U.S. News & World Report and has a reputation for being a collaborative work and learning environment. Curran can be credited for fostering a strong sense of community among faculty, staff and students through his personal approach as dean.

Rollins faculty members continue to grow in number and influence, teaching and conducting research and guiding national conversations on such topics as opioid abuse, prison health, diabetes, racial and ethnic disparities in health,  COVID-19 transmission, Medicaid policy, reproductive health, mental health, environmental health, HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality and more.

Sponsored research has grown steadily during Curran’s leadership, even when sources of federal funding were flat, to almost $117 million in 2018-2019. Rollins now ranks 4th in NIH funding among all schools of public health per the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research’s fiscal year 2019 report (with $50,088,074 in NIH funding).  The school’s endowment has grown to over $135 million, thanks to the generosity of many dozens of donors, most notably, the Rollins family, which has generously supported the school for many years through endowments, scholarships and support for building expansion.   

In February 2019, the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation pledged $65 million to Emory University toward construction of a third public health building on the Emory campus to be named the R. Randall Rollins Building. This new addition is currently under construction and will span 185,000 square feet and expand the school’s footprint to approximately 515,000 square feet. Growth in the school’s teaching and research activities and its trajectory into the future through strategic planning will be supported with this additional space. 

“I have been most privileged to serve since 1995 and be the longest-serving dean at Emory and among schools of public health in the United States,” Curran says. “We have much to be proud of at Rollins and should be very confident about the future.”