Paul Goldhaber

On July 14, 2008, the dean emeritus of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Paul Goldhaber, passed away at age 84. He served as dean of HSDM for 22 years.

During the commencement speech that Goldhaber delivered in 2008 at the UCLA School of Dentistry, he noted that his “college grades were not good enough” for Harvard. Yet through his professional skill and personal character, he became a Harvard School of Dental Medicine research assistant in 1954, assistant professor of oral pathology in 1959, and professor of periodontology in 1962. In 1968 he was appointed dean of HSDM, becoming the first Jewish dean at any Harvard school.

The eldest of three sons born to Polish immigrants, Goldhaber grew up in New York City speaking Yiddish as his first language. After joining the US Army, he was chosen for its Specialized Training Program, which funneled academically gifted enlistees into colleges during wartime. He graduated from the NYU College of Dentistry in 1948. While in the service and college, he met Ethel Renee Gurland through friends, 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 undergraduate work at City College of New York while concluding his periodontology specialty training at Columbia University. He then ventured north to Boston and HSDM.

While dean, he diversified the student body both ethnically and racially. He charted a new course for dental education, overseeing significant 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. Goldhaber encouraged students to become engaged in public service, to pursue research, and to continue on to advanced education. He also expanded the School’s subspecialty degree programs and established with Harvard Medical School a combined DMD/MD program in oral surgery.

Dean Bruce Donoff, who succeeded Goldhaber as dean in 1990, knew Goldhaber while Donoff was a student. “He was truly a giant in the fields of dental education and research,” said Donoff. “He firmly believed that science and discovery and research should be part of dental practice and dental education. Dr. Goldhaber also believed in a liberalized, more flexible dental curriculum to produce lifelong learners. His 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.” Among his many honors, Goldhaber was a member of the Institute of Medicine.

The Goldhaber family has initiated a fund to establish the Paul Goldhaber Dean’s Chair in his honor.