Academics Business

Former U.S. health secretary joins Miami Herbert Business School

Alex Azar, who as the nation’s top health official supervised Operation Warp Speed to develop COVID-19 vaccines in record time, will undertake a teaching and policy research position at the University of Miami this September.
In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, photo Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Alex Azar, former U.S. secretary of health and human services. Photo: The Associated Press

A former pharmaceutical executive, seasoned government executive, and practicing attorney in addition to his recent cabinet position, Alex Azar assumes a teaching and policy research position this fall as an adjunct professor and senior executive in residence at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School. 

He joins former University of Miami president Donna Shalala as the second former U.S. secretary of health and human services with the school’s Department of Health Management and Policy.

“Adding a second former health secretary to our faculty and especially someone with Alex’s vast expertise in other areas of the industry offers a tremendous opportunity to our students to learn from top leaders in the health care field—and that experience is invaluable,” said Dean John Quelch. “We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Alex to the University of Miami.”

Shalala, the longest-serving health secretary in history, noted that while she and Azar served under different political administrations, the two coincide closely in terms of key policy priorities and complement each other with their different perspectives.

“Alex and I share a common understanding of the most important issues facing the health care industry and, through our conversations and interactions, have established a dynamic working relationship,” said Shalala. “I’m very much looking forward to having him join me in the classroom this fall—and together to offer students an exceptional learning experience.” 

Azar earned a law degree from Yale University and was appointed general counsel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2005. In 2005, he was named deputy secretary of the department and served in that capacity until he resigned in January 2007. In June 2007, Azar was hired by Eli Lilly, a leading pharmaceutical firm. And from 2012-2017, he headed the U.S. division.

In his position as health secretary from 2018-2021, his previous varied experience proved invaluable, especially in terms of creating Operation Warp Speed, the private-public partnership tasked with developing vaccines to combat the surging COVID-19 virus. As lead architect of the effort, Azar leveraged the best experts from the federal government and private sector to develop the vaccines and therapeutics and lay the foundation for their distribution.

Additionally, he led efforts to transform health care delivery and financing, address the opioid crisis, restrict children’s access to flavored e-cigarettes, create the End the HIV Epidemic campaign, and restructure the future of kidney care.

Azar will co-teach two graduate courses and one undergraduate course this fall semester together with Steven Ullmann, professor and director of the Center for Health Management and Policy. Additionally, he will be a guest lecturer in other courses, including Health Care Organizations and Ethics and collaborate on policy research projects with Shalala and other faculty members. 

While learning firsthand how the historic vaccine development process was managed will certainly be a fascinating study for students, Ullmann also noted that a health secretary has oversight for the entire health care sector and that Azar’s ample experience will be enlightening for students.

“Students will be exposed to a wide range of critical aspects of the field and benefit from the [former] secretary’s knowledge and experience of health care management and leadership, as well as explore aspects of health care ethics and pharmaceutical development,” said Ullmann, while highlighting that all department courses are apolitical. 

The senior executive-in-residence designation is reserved for professionals of Azar’s stature whose expertise extends far beyond teaching experience, Ullmann explained, adding that he’s eager to begin co-teaching with the former secretary. Ullmann estimated that as many as 200 students—graduate, undergraduate from a range of schools, and executives—will be exposed to their shared health care policy coursework.   

In a recent conversation with Ullmann, Azar expressed his enthusiasm to engage with students and experience the intellectual interaction of a university setting. 

“I’m delighted to join the University of Miami faculty and to co-teach with all of these stellar colleagues. I so look forward to working with undergraduate and graduate students across the business and health programs both to share my experiences from decades of government and business leadership, and also to learn from them as we tackle complex business, health, leadership, and public policy challenges together,” said Azar, who recently wrote a guest essay for the New York Times highlighting the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. 

Michael French, who chairs the Department of Health Management and Policy, echoed the opportunity that adding a second former health secretary brings to the faculty. 

“The two bring a wealth of experience to our students in the classroom, and they complement each other very well,” he said. “Secretary Azar will be able to talk about overseeing Operation Warp Speed and the success with that, along with his efforts with other initiatives such as pharmaceutical pricing, transparency, and the drug approval process,” said French. 

“His appointment directly reflects the University’s balanced, apolitical approach—that one former secretary was appointed by a Democratic president and the other by a Republican, and the fact that they get along so well makes their affiliation with our department even more exciting,” he added. 

Azar, who will continue to reside in the Washington, D.C. area, will spend the week of September 7-11 on campus, then return for weeklong stays throughout the year, according to French. A reception and networking event for current students, alumni, and community leaders is planned for November.