Crown Prince

Whether on Capitol Hill, on campus or on Skid Row, USC dean Harold Slavkin is a leader for all dentistry.

ABOUT A THOUSAND people a day come to the School of Dentistry’s clinic at USC, and Harold Slavkin ’63, DDS ’65, cares about every one of them. He waits with patients, chatting easily, but doesn’t tell them he’s the dean of the school.
“My immigrant parents taught me that life is a journey of making the world a better place than you found it,” he says.
Slavkin’s journey began at 17, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a dental technician at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. When he got out, Slavkin came to USC – at first to study English, later to study dentistry.
He joined the USC faculty in 1968, wrote hundreds of scientific papers and book chapters and edited nine books. Developmental Craniofacial Biology established him as a world authority on craniofacial development.
Slavkin’s next stop was a return in 1995 to Washington, D.C., now as director of the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), one of the National Institutes of Health. Another opportunity to make the world better.
“I had never seen children with mouth cancer. I didn’t know that when women get breast cancer they also have dental problems,” he says. “I never really thought about how a democracy works, and I found out,” he says.
In Washington, Slavkin served as lead on the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health (, getting all of government to speak with one mouth. There are huge health disparities in America, says Slavkin, and even larger oral health disparities. While 43 million Americans have no medical insurance, 110 million have no dental insurance.
After five years at NIDCR, Slavkin prepared to return to USC to continue doing research and perhaps affect social policy. Instead, he came back as the new dean. Now Slavkin has given himself seven or eight years to raise the highly regarded USC School of Dentistry, founded in 1897, to the highest level.
He is especially proud of his school’s work at the Union Rescue Mission in L.A.’s Skid Row, where the dental school opened a clinic a year ago. The health disparities described statistically in the Surgeon General’s report are on stark display there.
“These are people who live in cardboard boxes. This is today’s reality,” he says. “We’re training dentists for the 21st century. Most dentists learn to take care of the young and healthy, but they also must care for people who are severely health-compromised.”

– Bob Calverley

Tangled Metal Detector

“It’s like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. When you put all the pieces together, you will get a picture,” says Mike Barr, describing the task at which he excels: combing through plane wreckages. As head of the USC School of Engineering’s Aviation Safety Program, Barr teaches people how to investigate aircraft accidents. About 80 percent of the aircraft accident investigators in the United States, and roughly half the world’s investigators, have been trained at USC. Students come from national and international air carriers, aircraft manufacturers, government air safety agencies, police departments, the military and agencies such as the Forest Service and the Border Patrol. While investigating plane wrecks requires technical expertise from many fields, Barr does not view it as an overly complex endeavor. “This isn’t brain surgery,” he says. The smashed and tangled metal, melted plastic, electronic records and broken bodies of an airplane crash all tell stories. One of the nation’s most quoted experts on air disasters, Barr spent 23 years in the Air Force and flew 137 combat missions in Vietnam.

– Bob Calverley

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Illustration by Tim Bower / photograph by Irene Fertik

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