Campus & Community

Dental School’s Goldhaber dies at 84

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Dean for 22 years charted new course for dental education

Paul W. Goldhaber, dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) for 22 years, died this past July 14 from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 84. While dean, from 1968 to 1990, Goldhaber chartered a new course for dental education, overseeing major changes in the School’s dental curriculum and playing a major role in creating what he called “the era of enlightenment” in teaching and clinical practice. HSDM Dean Bruce Donoff said of Goldhaber, “He was truly a giant in the field of dental education and research. He firmly believed that science and discovery and research should be part of dental practice and dental education.”

The eldest of three sons born to Polish immigrants, Goldhaber grew up in New York City speaking Yiddish as his first language. He graduated from Townsend Harris High School in New York City. After joining the Army, he was chosen for its Specialized Training Program, which funneled academically gifted enlistees into colleges during wartime. He graduated from the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry in 1948. While in the service, he met Ethel Renee Gurland, and the couple married in 1949.

Leaving the Army after active duty during the Korean War as a first lieutenant in the Dental Corps, Goldhaber completed his periodontology specialty training at Columbia University. He then ventured north to Boston and HSDM. He became an HSDM research assistant in 1954, as assistant professor of oral pathology in 1959, and professor of periodontology in 1962. In 1968, Harvard President Nathan Pusey appointed Goldhaber dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Goldhaber said recently in a University of California, Los Angeles, commencement address, “I was the first Jew in Harvard University’s 332 years of existence to become a dean of one of its Schools.” In fact, many of his actions were well ahead of their time. As dean, he diversified the student body both ethnically and racially. He encouraged public service, research, and advanced education, making a significant contribution to the preparation of leaders in the profession. He added a compulsory fifth year of study at the Dental School, during which time students could choose to do research or obtain an advanced degree. He also expanded the School’s subspecialty degree programs and established with Harvard Medical School (HMS) a combined D.M.D./M.D. program in oral surgery.

“I had the good fortune,” said Donoff, “to chair the Festschrift when Paul stepped down.” The event honored Goldhaber for all his accomplishments, highlighting two specific areas. “The first,” Donoff said, “was his belief in the importance of research in dental education. The second was his belief in a liberalized, more flexible dental curriculum to produce lifelong learners. Dr. Goldhaber’s own research laid the foundation for advances in bone biology and dental implants, which ushered in a new era of dentistry, enabling tooth implantation to become a routine dental procedure.”

Charles N. Bertolami D.M.Sc. ’78, dean of the NYU College of Dentistry, noted that a great number of leaders in dentistry and dental education throughout the United States view Goldhaber as their personal mentor and model. Said Bertolami, “Dr. Goldhaber elevated the stature of dentistry within the university as both a learned profession and a caring profession.”

Retiring as dean emeritus in 1990, Goldhaber continued to teach for many years. He regularly attended dinners and events at the School. In addition to his other national leadership positions and numerous publications, Goldhaber served as chair of the dental study section of the National Institutes of Health and was president of the American Association of Dental Research and of the International Association of Dental Research. He was a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine.

Goldhaber is survived by his wife Ethel Renee (Gurland) Goldhaber; two brothers, Stanley of Port Washington, N.Y., and Norman of Boynton Beach, Fla.; sons Samuel and Joshua; and four grandchildren. Remembrances may be made to the Dr. Paul Goldhaber Fund at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.