More than four decades ago, a young Yusuf Osman started studying dentistry at a tiny dental school housed on a single floor of Tygerberg Hospital. Today, he retires as the Dean of Africa’s premier dental school - the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of the Western Cape.
“It would be almost impossible to capture a lifetime of commitment In a few sentences - especially the kind of commitment that’s inspired generations of students and staff, all around the world, to do more than they ever could have imagined. That is the kind of commitment Prof Yusuf Osman has displayed.”
Those were the words of Professor Vivienne Lawack, UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Acting Rector, when faculty and friends gathered to celebrate Prof Yusuf Osman’s well-deserved retirement as UWC’s longest-serving Dean of Dentistry since the incorporation of the School of Oral Health Science of the University of Stellenbosch into the Faculty of Dentistry of UWC.
“Yusuf Osman has a long history with the dental faculty,” said Prof Neil Myburgh, the Acting Dean of the Dentistry Faculty. “He was one of the very first graduating class of dentists from UWC - if you look at the class photo, you may recognise the gentleman on the right. And he was one of those who came back, and we’re very glad he did.”
When Prof Osman left UWC as one of the first graduates of the Faculty of Dentistry, the University didn’t even have a hall for graduation. Over the decades since, as a lecturer, Deputy Dean and eventually Dean, he helped the University and Faculty grow from strength to strength - becoming the largest dental school on the African continent, and a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre.
“That really captures the kind of legacy that you are leaving at UWC,” Prof Lawack said. “Under your leadership, the Faculty has not only made an impact on the global stage when it comes to teaching and research, but has also become a beacon and an example to other faculties of how one can integrate your community engagement with your teaching and with your research.”
It’s not only his managerial skills that the University will miss, she added.
“When I asked the Deans’ Forum to describe Prof Osman as a person in one word, they had a lot to say. ‘Consistent’ was one. ‘Resourceful.’ ‘Resilient. ‘Strength.’ ‘Quiet wisdom’ - some deans just can’t stick to the brief. You get the image of the strong, quiet sage - and that’s what Yusuf has been to all of us. The man with the knowledge of the history and context of the situation, and the vision to take it forward, and who’ll do what he can to help you do it.”
Prof Osman expressed his pride in his long association with UWC.
“I owe UWC a great debt,” Prof Osman said. “I started here in 1974, and now it’s 2020 - that’s a lifetime. And I’ve had this great experience as a student, staff member, dean... what more could I ask for? I’m a first-generation graduate, like many of you sitting around here, but my children are all graduates who have gone on to pursue their own dreams. That’s what education does for you. That’s what UWC did for me.”
The Faculty of Dentistry had changed over the years, he noted - and that for the better.
“Over the years the Faculty has been on a trajectory - onwards and upwards. We’ve achieved a lot, and there’s still great potential for more. But it’s seasonal, and there’s a time for change. You must move on, and encourage new people to take on new challenges. We can’t stand still and let the world pass us by - not in this time.”
Luckily, he said, the Faculty of Dentistry is more than ready to keep up the good work and take the University to the next level.
“We have the right people and the right vision to take dentistry forward,” he said. “That’s why it’s a good time for me to leave, knowing that there are such amazing people, individually and together, who will take this faculty and the profession forward.”
Prof Osman will be honoured with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Oslo in Norway in September 2020. In the meantime, he said, he’s learning to relax and slow down.
“I always told everybody that in my next life I’m not going to have any Mondays,” he laughed, “and that’s what I have now. I have a great weekend and I sleep late on Monday morning. So if you need me to do something, talk to me on Tuesday or thereafter, okay?”