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A Time for Reflection

March 1, 2017

Dean John Featherstone's March column:

John FeatherstoneI’ve long felt that one ought not spend more than about 10 years in an assignment such as department chair or dean. These are very demanding, 24/7 positions. They require energy and enthusiasm.

As of July of this year, I will have been dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry for 10 years. Accordingly, I’ve decided it’s time for someone else to pick up the reins. I will be retiring as of December 2017.

Transitions offer the opportunity for reflection. Much has transpired in the school over the last decade.

One of the biggest hurdles, at the start of my tenure as dean, was when the world economy crashed in October 2008.  The school had to contend with state budget cuts of about 20 percent practically overnight. We faced the major task of continuing to do what we were doing with way less money. But we pulled together a wonderful team to address this, and have emerged stronger, leaner and undoubtedly better than we were before.

During that time, the school put together its first strategic plan, covering 2008-15. That guided us through the recession to stronger things.  I’m proud to say we’re into the second year of our second strategic plan, covering 2015-20. Two major developments from the five core objectives of the current plan are reaching fruition: the launch of UCSF Dental Center, and our curriculum reform project.

Clinical progress has been made as well. A decade ago, our switch to digital radiography — while I was interim dean — ushered us into the modern era. More recently, the predoctoral clinics have seen a 50-percent increase in productivity, and we continue to build on that. In the last year and a half, we’ve introduced our popular night clinics; patients also have benefited from upgraded waiting areas.

It has been a good 10 years for our research enterprise as well. We continue to lead all U.S. dental schools in NIH funding (from preliminary accounts, for the 25th consecutive year). We have been successful in recruiting vigorous, well-funded researchers across all departments, and the work has been tremendous. A few highlights: the successful launch of the Program in Craniofacial Biology, headed by Ophir Klein; the formation of the Children’s Oral Health Program, gaining momentum under Pam Den Besten’s leadership; and the recent launch of the new head/neck/oral cancer research group, headed by Andrei Goga.

Our teaching enterprise has been on a solid foundation as well. Our DDS program, and some of our specialty programs, were successfully accredited in 2012, with no recommendations: validation that we were doing things right. Our faculty have won many awards, and are being recognized for their work on the national and international levels. Our successful recruitment of new department chairs has in turn resulted in the recruitment of wonderful new faculty. Many have been supported by endowed chairs and professorships, thanks to the generosity of dedicated donors and to matching funds from the UC Office of the President.

Generous giving has played a part in renovating our physical plant: notably, research lab space on Health Sciences East 15; Health Sciences West 7 and 8; and the recent multi-million-dollar renovation of the Fleming preclinical simulation laboratory.

Private giving is the foundation of one thing I am very proud of: the Dean’s Scholarship for Opportunity program; and with it, the Chancellor’s Scholarship for Opportunity program. These programs have brought on some amazing scholars from disadvantaged backgrounds, who otherwise might not have been able to come to UCSF.

We truly do have the most amazing students here at the School of Dentistry. Many have won numerous awards, individually and collectively for our ADEA student chapter and John C. Greene Society. Part of this stems from changes in how we have recruited students over the last 10 years.  I have worked with many student leaders closely during my time as dean and the quality of their leadership has been one of the reasons for our continuing success.

None of this would have been possible without a huge team effort here, everyone from grass roots on up — including strong support from the three chancellors under whom I’ve served: J. Michael Bishop, Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Sam Hawgood. And in looking ahead, the school has a very strong leadership team in our associate deans and department chairs on which it can rely.  

I would like to especially acknowledge our wonderful staff, without whom none of this could have happened. Our faculty and students rely heavily on their support.  A big shout out also goes to our wonderful, dedicated, expert faculty.

In the coming months, I plan to hold a special town hall meeting to highlight 10 years of progress here in the School of Dentistry; look for details in upcoming issues of our weekly Newsbrief newsletter.

I must say that I truly have enjoyed my time as dean. I have worked with wonderful people, and it has been a joy to interact with students. I have been privileged to visit many parts of the world representing the school, helping to put UCSF on the map — particularly regarding the CAMBRA protocol.

I would like to thank again everyone past and present, within the UCSF School of Dentistry and our many friends and supporters outside the school, for your participation and support to make this one of the most successful and outstanding dental schools in the world. I will forever cherish my 23 years at UCSF.