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Dr. Paul Goldhaber, Harvard dean emeritus, dies at 84

Boston—A more rigorous and flexible dental education delivery system that combined clinical care with research and extended leadership opportunities to new groups of dental practitioners are just a few of the notable achievements for which Dr. Paul Goldhaber, Harvard School of Dental Medicine dean from 1968-90, is credited.

Dr. Goldhaber, dean emeritus, died July 14 at age 84 from complications of pancreatic cancer.

"He was simply a giant in dentistry," said Dr. R. Bruce Donoff, one of Dr. Goldhaber's former students and the dean of Harvard dental school who succeeded him.

"I first met Dr. Goldhaber when I was a student at Harvard and he was a professor of periodontology," said Dr. Donoff. "He was a bigger than life individual who made enormous contributions to dental education and research."

Above all, "Dr. Goldhaber believed in a very rigorous and more flexible dental education," said Dr. Donoff. "For example, he believed in dental rotations in hospitals, Veterans Affairs centers and community health centers long before they became the norm."

In one of his last public appearances, Dr. Goldhaber addressed the 2008 graduates of the University of California-Los Angeles School of Dentistry and fondly recalled an "era of enlightenment" in dental education wherein postdoctoral programs first began combining clinical specialty training with research.

"From such programs a new breed of clinical teacher arose, ushering in an explosion of new knowledge," he said. "Both teaching and clinical practice benefited enormously from these bright and challenging young academics. Clearly, their appearance on the scene was one of the key factors that helped initiate a drastic transformation of dental education."

Some of Dr. Goldhaber's more remarkable achievements as dean include diversifying the student body both ethnically and racially; encouraging graduates to become more involved in public service and their communities; adding a compulsory fifth year of dental school for students to perform research or obtain advanced degrees in public health or government; expanding the school's subspecialty degree programs; and establishing a combined DMD/MD program in oral surgery with Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Goldhaber was also an accomplished researcher. His studies in bone biology ushered in a new era of dentistry, enabling tooth implantation to become a routine dental procedure.
"In the 1970s, Dr. Goldhaber sponsored a conference on dental implantology, and another conference on women and minorities in dentistry," said Dr. Donoff. "On all of those issues, he was ahead of his time."

Dr. Linda Niessen was a first year dental student at Harvard in 1973 when she met Dean Goldhaber.

"This was an era in which women were just beginning to enter the profession in large numbers," said Dr. Niessen, vice president and chief clinical officer for DENTSPLY and a member of the ADA Foundation Board of Directors.

Forty percent of Dr. Niessen's class were women—a milestone at the time. Dr. Goldhaber facilitated meetings between the students and women dentists in practice and sent students to conferences of the American Association of Women Dentists.

"The profession didn't quite know what to do with us, but Dr. Goldhaber was clearly a visionary in dental education," said Dr. Niessen. "He welcomed the changes that were occurring and wanted to lead dental education in these new directions."

Born to Polish immigrants in New York City, Dr. Goldhaber enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II while attending City College of New York and the New York University College of Dentistry through the Army Specialized Training Program. Following active duty service during the Korean War as a 1st Lieutenant in the Dental Corps, he completed his studies and specialty training in periodontology at Columbia University.

In 1954, he began his career at Harvard, where he achieved the rank of full professor of periodontology in 1966 and was appointed dean of the school just two years later. "I was the first Jew in Harvard University's 332 years of existence to become dean of one of its schools," Dr. Goldhaber proudly told the UCLA graduates in June.

He was chairman of the Dental Study Section at the National Institutes of Health for three years, and served as president of both the American Association of Dental Research and later the International Association of Dental Research. He was a member of the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine and holds an honorary degree from Harvard University.

Dr. Goldhaber is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ethel Renée Gurland Goldhaber; sons Samuel Z. Goldhaber, M.D., and Joshua I. Goldhaber, M.D.; four grandchildren; and two brothers.

Memorials in his name may be made to the Dr. Paul Goldhaber Fund at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, 188 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Mass., 02115.