Dr. Bennett received his A.B. from Howard College (Samford University) in 1954, and his M.D. (cum laude) from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts in 1958. He served fellowships at the Massachusetts General Hospital (Rheumatology), the National Institutes of Health (Molecular biology) in Bethesda, Maryland and California Institute of Technology (Molecular Genetics) in Pasadena, California.He returned to Birmingham in 1965 to join the faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). From 1970-82, he was Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. In 1982, he was named Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine, and in 1992 was honored with the William and Evalina Spencer Chair in Medical Science Leadership. On October 1, 1993, he became the fourth President of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 1997, he was designated by the University Board of Trustees as Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and became President and Chief Operating Officer of BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (1997-2008).
Dr. Bennett has published over 200 scientific papers. He has been Editor, Cecil Textbook of Medicine, 19th, 20th, and 21st editions (1998-2000); Editor-in-Chief of Arthritis and Rheumatism (1975-1980); Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Medicine (1986-97).
His contributions in research include the delineation of constant (C) and variable (V) regions of immunoglobulin molecules, based on peptide analyses of myeloma proteins. These studies resulted in a general hypothesis for the generation of antibody diversity. These studies also led to description of the phylogenetic development of the immune system and formed the basis for site attachment of complement in activation of the inflammatory pathway. His clinical research focused on the structures of rheumatoid factors and relationships to various infectious agents as initiators of the rheumatoid process.
He has received awards from a number of distinguished organizations including the Seale Harris Award, Southern Medical Association (1987); Master, American College of Physicians (1990); Phillips Memorial Award, American College of Physicians (1993); Robert H. Williams Distinguished Chair of Medicine Award, Association of Professors of Medicine (1994); Francis Gilman Blake Award, Association of American Physicians (1997); Master, American College of Rheumatology (1998); Carol Nachman Medal, German Society of Rheumatology (2000); and the Kober Medal from the Association of American Physicians (2000). He has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (D.Sc.1992), the University of Leipzig, Germany (Dr. Med [honoris causa] 1999), and the University of Zurich, Switzerland (Dr. Med [honoris causa] 2008).
Dr. Bennett has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Microbiology, American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Medicine, London, and an honorary member of the Ludwig Heilmeyer Society (Germany).
His professional activities include President of the American College of Rheumatology (1981-1982); Chair, American Board of Internal Medicine (1994-1995); Chair, Board of Health Sciences Policy, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences (1988-1993); President, Association of Professors of Medicine (1991-1992); Chairman, Federated Council of Internal Medicine (1992-1993); NIH Director’s Panel on Clinical Research (1995-1998); President of the Association of American Physicians (1996-1997).
Dr. Bennett has served on many scientific advisory boards, including the Scientific Advisory Committee for Massachusetts General Hospital (1983-1987; 2001-2005); Scientific Advisory Board Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories (1987-1989); Founding Board Deutsches RheumaForschungsZentrum, Berlin (1988-1998); Scientific Advisory Committee, Warren Alpert Foundation (1989-1997); Scientific Advisory Committee, Charles E. Culpepper Foundation, Inc. (1989-1995); Visiting Committee, Harvard Medical School (1992-1997); and Board of Governors of the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center, at the National Institutes of Health (1996-1999).