D. Keith Williams Invested in Inaugural Biostatistics Professorship

Keith Williams investiture Jim Raczynski, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health (left) and College of Medicine Dean Richard Smith, M.D. (right) congratulate D. Keith Williams following the ceremony.

Keith Williams investiture Williams, who has won many teaching awards at UAMS, is the inaugural holder of the professorship.

April 4, 2014 | D. Keith Williams, Ph.D., was invested as the inaugural holder of the Robert C. Walls Endowed Professorship in Biostatistics at an April 1 ceremony at the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.

The UAMS Department of Biostatistics is a joint department between the UAMS Colleges of Medicine and Public Health. UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., College of Medicine Dean G. Richard Smith, M.D., and College of Public Health Dean James Raczynski, Ph.D., spoke at the event.

An endowed chair or professorship is the highest honor that a university can confer to a member of its faculty. At UAMS, these endowments ensure support for the ongoing work of the university’s most highly regarded scholars.

Williams joined UAMS in 1998 and is a professor in the Department of Biostatistics. The joint departmental arrangement between the two colleges is unique at UAMS and not commonly found at other institutions, and is reflective of the collaborative spirit at the heart of the new endowed professorship.

Tom Bruce, M.D., former College of Medicine dean and inaugural dean of the College of Public Health, initiated the creation of the endowed professorship last year. Bruce has bridged the worlds of medicine and public health throughout his career as a physician and championed partnerships that link academic medicine and public health with public health practitioners and the communities they serve.

Bruce’s gift and matched funds from the College of Medicine Faculty Group Practice provided the endowment for the professorship, which Bruce named after Robert Walls, Ph.D. Bruce had appointed Walls head of the Division of Biometry when he was College of Medicine dean from 1974-85. When the endowed professorship was announced last November, Bruce said that because the Department of Biostatistics serves the two colleges, it seemed fitting to create a professorship to honor both.

“Since I have no desire to have the professorship carry my own name, I'm free to honor anyone I want, and I choose Dr. Robert Walls,” Bruce said. “Bob has always been the essence of integrity and responsibility; a gentle, soft-spoken and smart guy, who never passed a chance to help his colleagues in their own teaching or research.”

At the time Bruce appointed Walls, biometry was little understood or appreciated as a discipline or as essential to medical science and research.

Smith, former head of the UAMS Department of Psychiatry, said, “At the time I started at UAMS in psychiatry, this very distinguished group of researchers in Biometry, even if small, served all of UAMS. To have a shared Department of Biostatistics is just amazing. Thank you for hanging in there when no one on campus knew what biostatistics was.”

Fondly recalling Williams, the recipient of the professorship, as the “cowboy statistician,” Smith said he appreciated his willingness to problem solve and “help me figure out how to do things when others would just say ‘no.’”

In the 16 years that Williams has been with UAMS, he has won several College of Public Health teaching awards, several faculty awards for excellence, and three Chancellor’s Faculty Teaching Awards, as well as a national teaching award from the American Statistical Association Section on Teaching Statistics in the Health Sciences.

Williams concluded the event by thanking his parents, UAMS leaders, Bruce, Walls and the many other past and current colleagues that have contributed to his success. He acknowledged the role of a statistician as one that facilitates broad interaction and collaboration.

“One thing that is great about statistics as a profession is that you get to play in everyone’s playground,” Williams said. “The synergy and friendships have made UAMS a wonderful place to work and play and a place where I have thrived.”

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