Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, a regular presence at recent White House briefings and one of the most trusted public officials as the country grapples with a pandemic, is also an honorary Siena College Saint.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a government expert who has worked under six presidents, was granted an honorary degree at the college’s 2011 commencement ceremony. Fauci appeared at the ceremony to receive the degree.
The college awarded Fauci the honorary degree “in recognition of his lifetime of noble service as a physician, medical researcher, and public official,” according to the ceremony’s program.
Siena Biology Professor Rachel Sterne-Marr wrote the honorary degree citation for Fauci and read it at the ceremony; she also had the opportunity to meet with Fauci at a dinner the night prior to the ceremony to celebrate the honorary degree recipients. She said meeting Fauci was a “highlight of my career.”
Sterne-Marr on Wednesday recalled her impression of the famous scientist, who she said has become a “rock star” in recent weeks, as someone who cared deeply about humanity. She said along with a political scientist they had an “incredible conversation about events all of over the world” and remembered him describing a decision to have the partners of people with HIV AIDS start being given the drug cocktail used to treat the virus; a couple days later President Obama announced the decision.
Sterne-Marr said Fauci’s conduct in recent weeks has been a credit to the importance of science and expertise in responding to crisis and a demonstration that he was worthy of the college’s honor.
“What we have been seeing in the last few weeks was what I saw, a guy that is brilliant but is cautious, always a scientist,” she said. “Here is someone who is speaking truth to power, and he is not afraid because he knows that you can’t just put things out there without evidence… The science doesn’t come about quickly, his decisions are based on years and years of experience.”
Siena Trustee David Stack, CEO and chairman of New Jersey-based Pacira Pharmaceuticals, had the original connection to Fauci, Siena spokeswoman Lisa Witkowski said Wednesday.
Fauci was born in Brooklyn in 1940 and graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1966. He joined the National Institutes of Health in 1968 and has run the institute of allergy and infectious diseases since 1984.
For decades Fauci has been considered one of the country’s leading expert in his field, but he has soared to greater prominence in recent months as the nation has grappled with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He frequently appears at White House briefings and his often-candid responses are regularly parsed by national media and other observers in search of divergence between the president and his medical experts.
Fauci’s job security has also turned into a parlor game of sorts, with commentators reflecting on his presence at press briefing one day and his lack of presence the next day. That parlor game intensified this week after President Donald Trump shared a Twitter message with the hashtag “fireFauci,” a message circulating among conservatives who argue Fauci is pushing restrictions at the cost of the economy.
Among federal officials leading America’s response, Fauci garners the greatest support and confidence, according to a recent Siena College poll. Nearly 75 percent of respondents in the poll conducted in late March said they approved of Fauci’s performance addressing the virus.
Fauci received a Jesuit education growing up Catholic, but he has said his faith has evolved over the years.
“I have evolved into less a Roman Catholic religion person (to) someone who tries to keep a degree of spirituality about them,” Fauci said in a 2003 interview with The Scientist Magazine. “I look upon myself as a humanist. I have faith in the goodness of humankind.”
Fauci was also the winner of the 2002 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. Fauci was the second person awarded the prize and was honored for “seminal contributions in helping researchers understand how the AIDS virus destroys the body’s defenses” and his other work.