Thursday, April 7, 2022

On April 1, Clark Stanford returned to his alma mater to become the 14th dean of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics. He graciously sat down for an interview to discuss how it feels to be back at Iowa and his priorities over the coming weeks and months.

What does it feel like to be back at Iowa as dean of the college?

It feels surreal. Sometimes it doesn't feel like it has been eight years, and other times, it feels longer. What hasn't changed is the collaborative spirit and friendliness of the people here, and I feel that again now.

Does it feel different now than it did in 2014?

There are many people that I knew from my time at Iowa eight years ago, but there has also been a significant changing of the guard. Roughly 70% of the faculty and staff are new to me. Nevertheless, the character of the college remains the same—especially the warmness and the close ties among the faculty, staff, residents, and students.

What does it take to be a successful dean at Iowa?

As dean, I am committed to look out for what is best for the college as a whole. The college, however, is not the building or the brand. It is the people, our faculty, staff, residents, and students, who make it what it is. My task is to move this already great college forward. 

What message do you want to communicate to our students?

Leadership starts at the top, but it also filters down to our faculty, staff, residents, and students. I want our students to know that I am committed to transparency and openness, and you can always know that I will listen so that I can understand where you are coming from. I want you to know that I am on your side. Our community is diverse with many voices and my role is to deeply listen to each community member. My door is open!

What are some fun memories you have from your time as a student at Iowa?

I earned my DDS in 1987, and I am looking forward to our upcoming class reunion in the Fall. It is hard to believe that 35 years have passed, but I still recall our "Decaybusters" skit and our "Mr. Bill goes to Dental School. Oh No!" skit. Ghostbusters came out in 1984 when I was in dental school, and the Mr. Bill skit was patterned after Saturday Night Live's Mr. Bill skits.

What have you been doing during your first week?

Research faculty meeting with Dean Stanford
Dean Clark Stanford Meeting with research faculty in the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research

I've been mostly moving in, meeting with faculty, staff, and student leadership, and getting settled. In these meetings, I've been highlighting two themes. The first is that it is important to think of our college as a dental hospital that also has an academic research and educational mission too. Our clinical enterprise is core to who we are as an institution, and it grounds our research mission and makes our education possible. We are really the largest group dental practice in the region. 

Second, I believe in distributed leadership. That is, I want to set up our team to succeed. The metaphor I have been using is that of the college as a ship, with our faculty, staff, and students serving as the crew of the ship, and our patients are our passengers. I see myself as the rudder who guides and directs our ship, sometimes slowly, to safe harbor as our amazing crew propel the ship forward.

What are your priorities for your first 100 days?

I am meeting with key stakeholders in the college, university, and among our alumni. I will be attending District dental meetings, State dental meetings, and I will be attending the Iowa Dental Association meeting next month. I will also be attending some university-level alumni and friends events with President Barbara Wilson.

I also will be working with the college to update the strategic plan. The university is already developing their new strategic plan, and it is time for us to do that work now too. 

Part of my initial goal is to support the digital dentistry simulation and clinical space renovations and plans that are already underway. They remain a high priority for the college.