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John A. DiBiaggio ’58

Former President of Tufts University, Michigan State University and University of Connecticut

School of Dentistry

Read an excerpt from MaryLee Davis' remarks on behalf of John DiBiaggio during the event.

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From l to r: UDM President Antoine Garibaldi, MaryLee Davis, who accepted on behalf of John DiBiaggio, and School of Dentistry Dean Mert Aksu.

John A. DiBiaggio ’58 believes that “Higher education is the best vehicle for the success of individuals in our society.” His career reflects this belief. A native of Detroit, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree. He received a dental degree from University of Detroit in 1958 and established a dental practice in New Baltimore, Michigan. During that time, he was a clinical instructor at University of Detroit’s School of Dentistry.

While his dental practice did well, he chose to leave dentistry to pursue a desire to become a dean in higher education. To reach that goal, he worked in administration at the University and pursued a degree from University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE), which prepares administrators for university leadership. At University of Detroit, he also served as an assistant to the dean of the School of Dentistry and chairperson of Social Dentistry.

Early positions in his career included serving as vice president for health affairs and as executive director of the Medical Center at the University of Connecticut and as dean of the Dental School at Virginia Commonwealth University.

He led three of the nation’s top universities as president: University of Connecticut from 1979 to 1985; Michigan State University from 1985 to 1992; and Tufts University from 1992 until 2001 when he retired. His career as an academic leader spanned 35 years.

Among his accomplishments, he established the University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts; and he led the university in a capital campaign, raising more than $600 million. He has been active on many prestigious boards, including the American Council on Education, the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Cancer Society Foundation. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is a former UDM trustee.

He lives with his wife, Nancy, in Snowmass, Colo.


dibiaggioJohn DiBiaggio was unable to attend the event. Accepting the award in his honor was MaryLee Davis, professor of Family and Community Medicine, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University. Davis worked closely with DiBiaggio during his presidential tenure at MSU, and served as executive assistant to the president (Chief of Staff) and secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees. Below is an excerpt from her remarks at the Spirit of UDM: Alumni Achievement Awards, April 11, 2014. View a video of her remarks and those of the other awardees.

“Through the years John has referenced the outstanding foundation he received here in the School of Dentistry, a foundation that has guided his decision-making and commitment to education throughout his entire career. In every position John has held, he has emerged as a leader and champion for excellence, ethical decision-making, and high professional standards. In fact, his understanding of professionalism began at this University.  

With this award, you not only salute Dr. John DiBiaggio, but also his leadership in Dentistry, Patient- centered Healthcare, Civic Engagement and Higher Education. Thank you for honoring a man whose life is a tribute to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, and a man who is a very special gift to humankind!”