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Spencer Frankl, dean of the Goldman School of Dental Medicine for more than 30 years and the longest-serving dean of any dental school in the country, died peacefully Saturday morning after a battle with cancer. Frankl led the school and its faculty to a position of prominence among the nation’s schools of dental medicine.
“There are very few academic leaders who will have the impact on an institution that Spencer Frankl had on the Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “Spencer’s leadership is visible in the high level of quality of instruction, clinical care, community service, and research programs of the school. He leaves a lasting legacy at Boston University.”
Jeffrey W. Hutter, the senior associate dean at BUGSDM, says Frankl was a special person who touched many lives.
“He will be truly missed,” says Hutter. “He was an inspiration to us all and always brought out the best in each of us. I have told our students who have expressed their condolences to me that Dean Frankl will live on within each of them, and thus they should strive to do as well as they can in their studies and their chosen profession.”
Over four decades, Frankl, who had announced in July that he would step down as of July 1, 2008, expanded BUGSDM’s degree programs, adding a seven-year D.M.D. program for undergraduates, and oversaw curriculum revisions to keep the school at the forefront of research, education, and technology use. In 2000, GSDM became one of six dental schools in the United States to replace traditional textbooks and classroom materials with digital texts.
He also helped sharpen the school’s focus on experiential learning and community involvement, partnering with Boston Medical Center and national organizations to offer dental care to the city’s low-income and underserved populations. A grant from the National Institutes of Health helped fund the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities (CREEDD) at GSDM, and funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established the New England Dental Access Project to recruit and train minority dentists.
Aram Chobanian (Hon.’06), president emeritus of Boston University and the John I. Sandson Distinguished Professor of Health Sciences at the School of Medicine, describes Frankl as a man of uncommon vision.
“He looked at dentistry in many new ways,” says Chobanian. “He became a leader in simulation methods of teaching, and his simulation center at the school became a model for dental education and training. He recognized the importance of community teaching and set up a number of centers around greater Boston. Those sites provided practical dental education and excellent dental care for underprivileged groups.”
Kathleen Ferland, the director of administration at the school, worked with Frankl for 35 years. She says Frankl often spoke about how people are the most valued asset of any successful institution. “He deeply appreciated the talents of the school’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, board of visitors, and the many friends to whom he listened attentively as they provided him with many creative ideas,” says Ferland. “His 30-year legacy in building a school without walls will never be forgotten. His vision and love for people in dental medicine will live far into the future.”
Marshall M. Sloane (SMG’49), a member of the school’s board of visitors and a BU trustee, says Frankl was always willing to face new challenges and embrace change. “As a result,” Sloane says, “Goldman School is ranked among the top dental schools in the nation and in the world in many categories. It was Dean Frankl’s dream to build a ‘school without boundaries,’ and he achieved that goal during his long tenure as dean of BUGSDM. He will be sorely missed.”
President Emeritus John Silber (Hon.’95) notes that it was through Frankl’s direction and example that the guiding principles of the school’s founder, Henry M. Goldman, live on in ever fuller realization. “Spencer’s deanship was notable for his unrelenting and highly successful efforts to build the research capabilities of the School of Dental Medicine and to integrate its programs into Boston Medical Center,” he says. “He emphasized the pursuit of excellence in advanced medical research and in the compassionate care for patients.”
Silber says the quality of Frankl’s deanship was recognized by several distinguished awards, including the school’s ranking in the top 10 dental schools in NIH research funding. “In 2001, the Goldman School used a $10 million grant from NIH to establish the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities,” Silber says. “These achievements are, of course, in addition to the continuing achievements of its graduates. Hundreds of gifted students receive undergraduate education in oral medicine and hundreds of the nation’s finest practicing dentists perfect their knowledge and skills through graduate programs. And the school provides the best in dental care to thousands of individuals through its clinics.”
Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus, says she admired Frankl’s innovation. “Watching him manage the dental school’s reaccreditation soon after I arrived, I realized that he was on the cutting edge of dental education,” she says. “He had developed community service and international educational programs as well as an outstanding program for planning and evaluation, for which he received a commendation from the site visitors.”
Frankl graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in 1958 and completed a postdoctoral residency in pediatric dentistry at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in 1959. In 1964 he was recruited from Tufts by the school’s founding dean, Henry M. Goldman, to create the department of pediatric dentistry, joining the faculty as an associate professor. He was promoted to full professor and held various administrative titles within the school, including assistant dean for dental health affairs and associate dean. He also became the chief of the pediatric dental service at Harvard University–affiliated Beth Israel Hospital.
As GSDM associate dean, Frankl initiated, planned, and developed the D.M.D. program, which began in 1972. He secured a $1.1 million federal construction grant to enlarge the school’s physical plant to accommodate the program. In 1976, he was appointed dean designate, and in 1977 he was installed as dean and deputy director of Boston University Medical Center.
During his 30 years as dean, the school’s physical space more than doubled, and there have been numerous facility upgrades, including the 2003 renovation of the predoctoral patient treatment center. GSDM’s extramural programs include more than 100 affiliates and partners, and its sponsored research awards now rank the school in the top echelon of the dental education community, as well as within the University.
Over the years, Frankl’s work ranged well beyond BU and even the Boston area. As chair and chief of the dental service, he organized and developed the dental department at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston, with particular emphasis on special needs patients. He subsequently initiated programs for special needs children with the state departments of youth services and mental health.
GSDM launched a $2 million campaign to establish the Spencer N. Frankl Chair in Dental Medicine in 2002 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the school and Frankl’s 25 years as dean. The chair was fully endowed this year. More recently, GSDM announced the establishment of the Dean Spencer N. Frankl Scholarship to honor his more than 40 years of service. The school intends to raise $1 million for the scholarship.
Services for Frankl will be held at Temple Israel, 477 Longwood Ave., Brookline, on Thursday, October 25, at 11 a.m. Donations can be sent to the Spencer N. Frankl Scholarship, Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, 100 East Newton St., Boston, MA 02118, or the Brain Tumor Research Fund, c/o Dr. Patrick Wen, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 44 Binney St., Boston, MA 02115.
The mission of Boston University School of Dental Medicine is to provide excellent education to dental professionals throughout their careers; to shape the future of dental medicine and dental education through research; to offer excellent health care services to the community; to participate in community activities; and to foster a respectful and supportive environment.