By Rita A. Startup, Assistant Dean for Development & Alumni Affairs
When Dr. Michael C. Alfano assumed the deanship of NYUCD in 1998, the state of the union with regard to alumni relations was not good. Alumni events were a mixed bag – some well attended, some poorly attended. Overall alumni giving was low in comparison with other dental schools and other NYU schools, and many alumni were disaffected, feeling that they had been treated poorly as dental students.
Alumni fund raising at NYUCD reflected this state of affairs. In 2001, the annual Alumni Fund drew just $303,753 and the overall fund-raising campaign reported $1,952,181. But last year, alumni gave $877,000 to the College and the overall campaign raised $9,022,000. The charts which follow show the evolution in the growth of giving to the College.
Under Dean Alfano’s leadership, we were able to implement a number of changes – cultural, philosophical and structural – that transformed what had been a troubled relationship between NYUCD and its alumni into what I believe most alumni today would say has become a robustly healthy one.
Because Dean Alfano came to NYUCD without any institutional baggage – he was neither an alumnus nor a faculty member – and armed with an extremely diverse and impressive list of educational and professional accomplishments and an exciting vision for the future, we knew that we had a good “product” to advertise and that it was important for alumni to get to know him as soon as possible. One of the first things we did to break down barriers between the Dean and alumni was to eliminate the annual Alumni Day program, a labor-intensive, costly and poorly-attended annual event. After surveying alumni, it became clear that they did not want to leave their practices for an entire day to attend a CDE program and socialize. They preferred to attend continuing education courses given locally and at more convenient times.
In its place, we instituted small group meetings with alumni, including regional visits and Dean’s Roundtables, which allowed alumni to share their expertise with students and students to network with alumni. These events also provided an opportunity for alumni to become directly involved in the College, and many elected to join the faculty on a part-time basis.
At these meetings, Dean Alfano listened, really listened, to what alumni had to say and pledged his commitment to move NYUCD in a more positive direction. And he shared with alumni his vision for the College, which included plans to increase research funding, renovate facilities, improve student and faculty relations, recruit world-class faculty, increase faculty and staff, improve the practice of dentistry through media-driven public awareness campaigns and, especially, to have a successful accreditation visit.
All of these objectives, he explained, were directed toward a larger goal: To make NYUCD the dental institution in the world with the greatest impact on the health of society.
Then, in 2002, Dean Alfano made
a decision that many at the time found shocking, but which proved to be the turning point in NYUCD’s relationship with its alumni.
In a letter to alumni, he wrote: “I sincerely apologize to all of you who were mistreated by the faculty and/or staff of the College at any time in the past.” He went on to pledge, “Whether or
not you choose to accept my apology, NYUCD is committed
to working hard to build a great dental school with an enlightened, respectful faculty, a cooperative staff, and a dedicated student body.” Alumni understood that something big had happened.
Dean Alfano also offered a new vision of student-faculty relations – a partnership in which students develop their critical-thinking abilities. Inherent in the faculty-student partnership is a strict
code of ethics that establishes the highest standards of professional conduct and promotes lifelong learning as fundamental to professional growth.
“Today,” he declared, “dental education at NYU focuses squarely on training students to be great people first – people
of high integrity and ethical character –
great dentists.” “Integrity,” he wrote, “requires that we own up to our mistakes.”
The response was extremely gratifying. Heartened by the Dean’s candor and willingness to reach out, alumni responded very positively, with many making gifts for the first time. During this period, the College also began to attract important leadership gifts from alumni,
which led to the transformation of NYUCD’s infrastructure to include such magnificent facilities as the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research and the Rosenthal Institute for Aesthetic Dentistry, both the result of alumni gifts to the College. Later would come other major alumni naming gifts, including,
but not limited to, the Jonathan and Maxine Ferencz Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics and the Tarnow Wing for Periodontology and Implant Dentistry (see related story.)
Dean Alfano promised alumni that we would put their gifts to good use, and in November 2003, it became apparent that this was happening when a site visit by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association resulted in NYUCD receiving a perfect accreditation score, with zero recommendations for improvements in any of the programs and 30 commendations recognizing the high quality of the College’s clinical care and basic science programs, research enterprise, and the collegial and cooperative manner in which students, faculty and staff interact.
To understand just how far the College had come, consider that
at the previous accreditation visit, in 1996, NYUCD received 43 recommendations and zero commendations.
More recently, when the rankings for federal research support to dental institutions in 2005 were announced, NYUCD ranked sixth in the nation
in order of grants funded by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).
NYU had moved up from 11th place in 2004 to sixth place in 2005 and, more remarkably, from 41st place
in 2000 to it current top 10 position.
Coupled with substantial advances in the quality of our students, faculty and facilities; our ongoing high programmatic impact in the U.S. and abroad; the continual enhancement of our clinical facilities; and our strong focus on ethics and integrity; NYUCD’s achievements in recent years mean that an NYU dental degree is more prestigious than ever.
Other initiatives along the way that helped NYUCD to build a better relationship with alumni included a public relations campaign, “Ask Your Dentist,” which uses the media to drive public awareness of oral health issues; a multiple-award-winning publication, Global Health Nexus, which reaches 23,000 people around the world; and the formation of a new gift club, the Dean’s Circle, which began in 1999 with 18 founding members who gave $1,000 each to celebrate the Dean’s first year in office. The Dean’s Circle challenges donors to bring in at least one new Dean’s Circle member annually. What began seven years ago with 18 donors now includes over 300 people at the $1,000-and-above level.
Alumni also responded positively to a new approach to reunions – an
ensemble approach of inviting
all anniversary classes of the year
to celebrate together. Last year over 350 people attended the combined reunions gala and we expect to host over 500 alumni in 2006. In addition, the leadership of the development office changed, and staff and other resources were increased so that more outreach and fundraising could take place.
as NYUCD reached out
to alumni in recent years, we also worked to create a cohesive, energized and involved on-campus community of faculty, students, and staff through special events like boat rides, parties at the United Nations, the wax museum and great New York City locations.
NYUCD today has stopped looking back and is solidly focused on the future. We are determined to continue to make our alumni proud, and all signs are that we are succeeding.