By SHANNON O. WELLS
Since Thomas W. Braun retired in 2018 after 18 years in the job, the role of dean at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine has been a bit unsettled, but a national search for a new leader is now underway.
A forum held on Jan. 23 laid out the parameters of the search and provided an opportunity for faculty and staff to ask questions of the search committee, as well as representatives from Russell Reynolds Associates, the Chicago-based firm working with Pitt to recruit a new dean.
Anthony Delitto, search committee chair and dean of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said they are looking for “a top-notch person who has … the know-how to take the School of Dental Medicine forward. We're looking at peer institutions as comparisons — like the University of Michigan — (those) we consider our peers and where we'd like to see us be compared very favorably with as we go forward. So, who's the person that can lead us there?”
As Kathy Vuturo, a Russell Reynolds Associates consultant, explained, the search process got going in December with a “needs assessment phase” involving various Pitt schools and Anantha Shekhar, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for health sciences since 2020.
“We've conducted probably 35 or 40 stakeholder interviews, really in sort of a 360-degree manner (including) School of Dental Medicine (leaders), students, folks who are in other schools in the health sciences, other leaders within the University, and then obviously we've spent a fair amount of time with Dr. Shekhar and our search committee as well,” Vuturo said. “The idea is to really gather as much broad-based input as possible around both what we think the core responsibilities and important factors in the role are as well as understanding the ideal sort of phenotype for candidates and where we might want to focus our search.”
The search strategy will look at people from:
Top National Institutes of Health-funded schools of dental medicine and researchers
Accredited U.S. schools of dental medicine
Dental professional associations
Canadian schools and U.S.-trained leaders abroad
“The committee is searching for an outstanding servant leader who will support all faculty, staff and students with a vision for the future of dentistry, experience in tailoring investments and resources to advance the School of Dental Medicine, and a demonstrable commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Delitto said in a statement on the search committee website. “We seek a nationally recognized dental expert with clinical experience who is a skilled researcher, proven educator and active contributor to the dental academic community.”
Joanna Spontak, senior administrative assistant in Shekhar’s office who is serving as a support person for the search committee, acknowledged the unsettled nature of the role in recent years at Pitt and at other institutions, including the University of Michigan, that also are searching for dental school deans.
“There has been a lot of turnover in deans of schools of dental medicine in the last, say, five years,” she said. “And sometimes that can be a bit challenging because you find that people have just stepped into new roles, those individuals have shuffled their leadership teams. … It’s all sort of real-time market information, and as we reach out to our sources and prospective candidates, we're going to learn a lot more.”
Marnie Oakley, who had been vice dean at the school, served as interim dean in 2021 when Bernard Costello, Braun’s successor, took voluntary administrative leave for personal reasons, and she is again filling that role after Costello was named associate vice chancellor for health science integration last fall.
Vuturo said the committee will spend about six weeks “in the market” before reconvening to consider a slate of eight to 10 candidates to invite for first-round interviews.
“We're not just spamming sort of everyone in the dental community, but we're focused really on individuals that we think might meet the competencies and experiences that this group is looking for,” she said, noting that interviews could begin as early as March. “This is a pretty quick, five-, six-month process, in its ideal state.”
Russell Reynolds Associates says its commitment to a “diverse, equitable and inclusive” search process includes leveraging prior searches and its “vast database” to including high-caliber diverse prospects previously identified and continuously monitoring the diversity of the candidate pool from “long-list to short-list” stage.
While experience in, and vision for, research is a key component in the process, Delitto emphasized that it would not be at the expense of other credentials.
“I think it was really clear from Dr. Shekhar’s charge to us that the dental practice is an extremely important component of the School of Dental Medicine,” he said. “And part of the future was actually thinking about that practice being expanded. That's an extremely important component that we are going to be looking for as an attribute, someone who can help in that goal.”
Noting that teaching dental practice is “only one arm of the stool,” Vuturo observed that the best overall candidate may have greater strengths in one area than another. “It’s going to be an interesting balance,” she said. “We'll see some people who (are a) research heavyweight and may be a little lighter on teaching, for example.”
Responding to a question about whether the list of 61 schools included in the Russell Reynolds Associates presentation was overly comprehensive, Vuturo elaborated on the breadth of entities the search includes.
“Certainly, we start with sort of the top-funded schools and the sort of most highly regarded schools,” she said. “We'll be looking to professional associations, and their boards and leaders in those organizations that are relevant, like the ADA or the ADEA. We also do a sweep and make sure we're capturing individuals who potentially have research portfolios but are not sitting in schools of dentistry. You can do sort of the reverse search on the NIH websites. And then we're seeking recommendations and working through sources, to the extent that individuals have recommendations for us, and we will certainly explore those.”
Large group dental practices, however, are not a direct focus in the search.
“There is a strong interest in clinical, I think, leadership and management,” Vuturo said. “Because we are seeking someone who has something of a research background and also has the ability to meet the academic requirements at Pitt to be a full-tenured professor, my hypothesis is that we would likely find those individuals through sourcing and through our network versus necessarily sort of mapping the universe of large group practices.”
Questions and comments related to the School of Dental Medicine dean search can be shared on the search committee website.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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