Alumni will celebrate in exile

Dental school group's recruitment practices criticized by UMB

May 27, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland dental school's alumni association is celebrating its 150th anniversary this weekend in Hunt Valley, but the school wants nothing to do with the group.

The alumni group has been kicked off campus and warned not to imply it has any affiliation with the university. And the dental school's dean helped create an alumni association to replace the old one.

The association's eviction left it to operate out of its executive director's house and place historical school artifacts, given to the group over the years, in a storage facility off Interstate 83 in Baltimore County.

The school's dean even tried to dissuade the main speaker at this weekend's association meeting, a world-renowned dental expert from Utah, from showing up -- by writing to tell him that the university doesn't recognize the alumni group.

These actions have outraged many alumni of the University of Maryland's Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the world's first dental college. Some have told college officials that they will no longer contribute financially to the school until the dispute is resolved.

The controversy hinges on college officials' allegations that the disenfranchised alumni association has made too little effort to attract recent graduates, which increasingly include women and minorities. But at the center is a clash between Dean Richard R. Ranney and Joseph P. Cappuccio, executive director of the old alumni association and a past president of the American Dental Association.

Cappuccio, 75, said his group will continue to function despite Ranney's efforts to shut it down. "We've been there 150 years. We have roots. It's like a big tree, hard to take down," Cappuccio said.

Ranney refused repeated interview requests, but he was vigorously defended by David J. Ramsay, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Ramsay said leaders of the old alumni association clashed with previous deans and faculty. "This is not just a Ranney problem," Ramsay said. "This is an issue that has been going on for many years. I'd call him [Ranney] courageous because this is the dean who has had the courage to take this on."

Alumni association board members say their group is open to all graduates and that younger people, busy building their careers, have simply chosen not to become active in alumni matters.

`We want everybody'

"The diversity issue is the biggest slap in the face," said alumni association president John D. Denney. "By innuendo, they are calling us a gang of old white guys. We want everybody to be a member. We do have women and blacks in the association."

Board member Charles L. Page said the group has long offered free memberships to all graduates for the first year in an effort to get as many people involved as possible.

He also noted that two women and two African-Americans serve on the group's 14-member board.

Cappuccio, who taught at the dental college for 38 years and has been executive director of the alumni association for 25 years, said he always had a good working relationship with previous deans, before Ranney's arrival from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1991.

Errol L. Reese -- dean of the dental school from 1974 to 1991 and president of UMB for two years -- appointed Ranney. He said he met with both sides early in the confrontation and urged them to work out their problems.

He said the situation is unfortunate: "You're talking about institutions that are more than a century old, so you have to do everything in your power to try to sustain those institutions. It's painful for me to see this happen because I believe a good, strong alumni association can be extremely helpful to the school and the university."

Roots of the dispute

Several officers in the old alumni group trace the roots of the dispute with Ranney to May 1996, when a former alumni association president wrote to a member of the dean's staff, saying she could not sit in on the group's board meetings unless she asked to attend.

The letter triggered an irate call from Ranney to Cappuccio, one in which Cappuccio said Ranney cursed at him. That soon turned into all-out war.

In September 1997, the old alumni association was kicked off campus.

A year later, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents voted formally to revoke recognition of the alumni group, and a new alumni group was established.

Denney and several board members said Ranney and officials rebuffed their efforts to mediate. Sheldon Silverman, the association's president at the time, said Ranney made it clear he wanted Cappuccio gone.

Silverman said Ranney agreed to compromises that were aimed at resolving the dispute but later reneged on them. Silverman and other board members said they had agreed to work with the school to get more recent graduates to become active in the alumni association.

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