Garrison earned her bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina in 1974, then came to the UAB School of Nursing to get her master's and a Nurse Practitioner's certificate, which she completed in 1978 while working as an assistant professor. She then returned to Chapel Hill for a Ph.D. in epidemiology, which she completed in 1982. Her dissertation research was in recognizing symptoms of depression in early adolescents.
She joined the faculty of the University of South Carolina that year and was promoted in 1992 to Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Two years later she was made Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School. In 1997 she accepted the position of Provost for the University of Louisville in Kentucky and in 2002 served as that school's acting president before the University of Alabama Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hire her as UAB president on July 23, 2002.
During her presidency, Garrison oversaw the creation and implementation of a strategic plan for the university's programs and campus. The university constructed the Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, the UAB Campus Green, Heritage Hall and other buildings which served to update university facilities while also reinforcing the strategy of creating a more integrated campus. The UAB Health System constructed its new UAB Women and Infants Center, and the UAB Hospital North Pavilion, and renovated its UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and built a new oncology facility. UAB also proposed construction of an on campus stadium, which was denied approval by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.
During Garrison's tenure the UAB School of Dentistry received the University's largest-ever grant award to create a national network to study best practices in patient care. UAB also reported record enrollment for three consecutive years leading into 2011.
As president, she also served as chair of the board of the Southern Research Institute and on the board of Operation New Birmingham. She has also chaired the executive committee of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and sits on that group's board of directors.
An audit of spending by former University of Tennessee president John Shumaker accused him of misleading investigators about his sharing a hotel room with Garrison during a trip to San Antonio, Texas and about the purpose of several visits to Birmingham. The recently-divorced Shumaker was president of the University of Louisville while she was provost.1.
Malcolm Portera (interim)
Richard Marchase (acting)
- Mahoney, Ryan (July 23, 2002) "Carol Garrison named new UAB president." Birmingham Business Journal
- Rodriguez, Nancy (August 21, 2003) "Auditor Says Shumaker Lied about Motel Stay with UAB Pres." WATE.com
- "In pictures: Key UAB moments under Garrison." (August 17, 2012) Birmingham Business Journal