Faculty Profile Steve Morin, PhD

January, 2017

The Academic Senate spoke to recent Faculty Research Lecture recipient Steve Morin, PhD, to learn how he initially became interested in scientific research, as well as what still drives him in his field. After a decade in Washington DC, Dr. Morin also provided his insights on the future of Federal funding of scientific research under the Trump administration.

Steve Morin, PhD
                                        Steve Morin, PhD

Not many can claim a birthplace on the same street as the American poetess Emily Dickinson. But for inveterate world traveler Steve Morin, PhD, Emeritus Professor, within the UCSF Department of Medicine, that’s where his interest in academics began.

“I have been to all fifty states, all provinces in Canada and over 60 countries,” Morin said.

His accomplishments include being selected by a body of his peers as the UCSF Academic Senate’s Faculty Research Lecture Clinical Science recipient for the 2016-2017 year.  Faculty Research Lecture recipients present a lecture on the topic of their choosing.  Professor Morin spoke on “Responding to the Challenges of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: AIDS Policy Research.”

Looking back over his career, scientific and academic inquiry was always at the forefront.
“I think I was initially supposed to be cleaning rat cages, but after a couple of years I started running statistical analysis research, and that got me interested in academic research,” Morin said of his first job at Amherst College at age 16.

Morin began that career as a Professor at California State University San Bernardino. In the early 70’s, he focused on destigmatizing homosexuality as a mental illness by having it removed from both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the American Psychiatric Association’s official list of mental disorders.

At the time of Morin’s efforts, the American Psychological Association had zero representation from the LGBTQ community, meaning that all scientific research about that community was focused on it as an illness. Professor Morin also strove to initiate creation of an association of lesbian and gay psychologists. After five years, he moved to San Francisco where he continued to advocate for the LGBTQ community as a psychologist and through publishing in psychology journals.

“When the AIDS epidemic hit, one of my colleagues was one of the first to be diagnosed and that was what got me interested in HIV prevention studies,” Morin said. “I was then appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to advise on reforming and restructuring the mental health service delivery system in California.”

By the end of 1981, 270 HIV cases had been diagnosed and had claimed the lives of 121 individuals. During this time Morin began working with the health department on the STOP AIDS Project in California to prevent HIV transmission. Eventually, the program’s public health framework focus on education and prevention behaviors in high risk populations spread across the nation, and around the world; it came to be known as the Morin Model.

Professor Morin began his UCSF career in 1984 as an assistant clinical professor.

“It became clear during this time that we needed to bring behavior change to address the AIDS epidemic, which led to the founding of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies [CAPS] in 1986,” Morin said.

In 1987, Morin relocated to Washington, DC, to work for Representative Nancy Pelosi as the first full-time congressional staff member focused on HIV treatment and prevention policy. This included the AIDS Federal Policy Act of 1988, the AIDS Health Care Financing Act of 1988, and the Comprehensive HIV Prevention Act of 1993.
“I look back to what Congresswoman Pelosi accomplished in Congress when I was there and it truly is remarkable,” Morin said. “A lot of the research conducted at UCSF was taken up by policy makers.” Still he noted a weakness in the amount of evidence that was lacking at that time. “I was constantly frustrated by when I needed facts and numbers and they weren’t readily available.”

In his transition from public policy back to academia, Morin saw promise in CAPS’ potential. During his decade long role as the director of CAPS, the largest of the AIDS centers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Morin coordinated HIV policy research and mentored students, who have gone on to have successful careers at institutions of higher learning, public agencies and government organizations.

“Scientific research is for the curious, which begins with recognizing public policy challenges and continues with a commitment to responding to those challenges.” Morin said. “So science is driven by need and it’s also incremental.”

Morin also worked with the HIV Prevention Trials Network Community Working Group as the principal investigator in Zimbabwe and lead intervention clinical trials in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand.

“We have additional knowledge and technology than we did 30 years ago,” Morin said. “We now know the importance of getting tested for AIDS, that antiretroviral treatment helps diminish the likelihood of transmitting the disease significantly and those who don’t have HIV, but have a high chance of getting it can now take medication for prevention, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis.”

Morin’s extensive work with policy research makes him hopeful for the future of Federal research funding, despite last year’s campaign rhetoric. He served on the Clinton-Gore Presidential Transition Team for the Department of Health and Human Services in 1994, and chaired the transition for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the behavioral institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  That said, Morin had hoped to interact with another Clinton administration for the next four years.

In the Trump Administration one of the possible changes is a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as Obamacare. This has broad implications, which vary, based on what ACA might be replaced with. Recent news articles have cited reduced coverage of individuals with pre-existing conditions and having young adults remain on parents’ insurance plans as potential changes. While ACA remain in discussion, another concern is the lowering of Federal research funds. The short-term Continuing Resolution kept funding for federal programs and services through April 28, 2017, but it included funding for the 21st Century Cures Act. This House-passed Act will change the way the FDA works with pharmaceutical companies as well as boosts funding in medical research including Alzheimer’s, cancer and personalized medicine. However, this bill would only give a one percent increase to NIH.

“This means there would be no new money for issues like HIV research, and this comes at a time when we have an increased interest in care research and HIV prevention studies, so that budget forecast is disappointing,” Morin said.

Regardless of how Morin feels about the presidential election results, he is not backing down.

“You can’t give up,” Morin said. “I am now in a fighting mood to not give up on the principles and the challenges I care about. We can still mobilize and get people on the inside to make a difference.”


Created by UC Board of Regents Standing Order 105, the UC San Francisco (UCSF) Academic Senate is empowered to exercise direct control over such academic matters as admissions for degrees and curricula, which are of central importance to the University. The UCSF Division of Academic Senate provides an independent forum to discuss faculty-related campus wide academic concerns. In other areas, the Senate exercises an active advisory role. The Academic Senate works within the larger body of UCSF, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.


Kathryn Sill is a Communications Specialist in the Academic Senate Office, San Francisco Division. She can be reached at kathryn.sill@ucsf.edu.