Emeritus Dean and Professor Ara Paul, a titan of Michigan pharmacy, leaves behind an enduring legacy
November 30, 2023
By: Toni Shears, Lindsay Groth
Ara G. Paul, Dean Emeritus, who grew the University of Michigan’s (U-M) College of Pharmacy into one of the nation’s premier pharmacy programs during his long and remarkable career, passed away on November 15, 2023, at his home in Ann Arbor. He was 94.
Paul, who served as dean from 1975 – 1995, spearheaded the College’s growth into a nationally recognized center of excellence for pharmaceutical education, practice, and research. He was driven by his tenacious desire to provide his students with a transformational education that would prepare them to be the leaders and best in their field. This, coupled with an insistence on excellence, propelled the school’s growth and ascension to national prominence.
Frank Ascione, retired Dean of the College of Pharmacy and long-time friend, recalls, “he had a vision for change and a philosophy of innovation. He fought for resources, and with them, he created an environment that set faculty, staff, and students up for success. His leadership style can only be described as performance-driven; he had high expectations but still provided the necessary support when needed to achieve success.”
A vision to create a premier college of pharmacy
He was a visionary who saw that trends in the pharmacy profession required more rigorous academic preparation. He spearheaded the effort to phase out the Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy program in favor of the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), including a significant expansion of the research element in the curriculum. A faculty-supervised research project already had been a part of the program — making it the first U.S. pharmacy degree program to have this requirement — but the new curriculum added several other required courses, specifically those in research methodology, scientific literature evaluation, and statistics.
When this shift was completed in 1979, the College was only the third pharmacy school in the nation to adopt the PharmD as the sole professional degree for careers. Two decades would pass before the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) would adopt the PharmD as the sole terminal degree.
During his tenure, the PharmD program grew from 20 first-year students to 55, and in 1992, minority enrollment reached a high of 38 percent of first-year PharmD students (Class of 1996).
Recognizing the importance of clinical experience to a pharmacy student's education, Paul coordinated a strategic integration of the College of Pharmacy and U-M Hospital pharmacy services in the 1970s. This move aligned educational and operational priorities since the hospitals were (and continue to be) a primary teaching site for PharmD students.
Another crowning achievement during Paul’s tenure was the strategic priority he placed on increasing research for all basic, clinical, and social scientists. He dramatically grew the number and quality of faculty across every department, recruiting cutting-edge scientists who won recognition for their discoveries and innovations.
As a result of this growth, the College’s footprint became too small to accommodate the increase in research, faculty, and students. Paul responded by launching the construction of a four-story, 20,000-square-foot addition to the south side of the Pharmacy Building completed in 1993 and then led the renovation of the northeast wing, which added another 15,000 square feet of new space. Additions to the building included a state-of-the-art drug design computer lab and new laboratories for biological chemistry preparation and cell culture; a 1,000-square foot clean room; a modern liquid scintillation suite; and an overall facelift to modernize the facilities throughout for all stakeholders who came to the building. Ascione reflects, “Ara felt strongly about garnering these resources for the college because he was a leader and innovator and not simply a caretaker.”
“Ara was passionate about people; he remembered the small things and made it his mission to make sure friends of the College felt acknowledged and connected,” states Terra Khanna, Executive Director of Advancement at the College of Pharmacy. Ara’s story would not be complete without acknowledging his passion and skill for fundraising.
It truly is a cornerstone of his legacy. Ara was equally curious about people and was a wonderful relationship developer, which can be attributed to his success as a development officer. Current College of Pharmacy Dean Vicki Ellingrod recalls, “I had the opportunity to meet with Ara before he passed, and just as always, he asked how he could help the college.” In his first year as dean, he parlayed the College’s centennial year into a successful fundraising campaign. At the start of his deanship in 1975, the College’s endowment was less than $500,000; by the time he retired, the endowment was valued at nearly $20 million.
“Ara helped future-proof the college by establishing fundraising as a core function and a means to its sustainability. With the growth of the endowment, he shaped the blueprint for future deans and the advancement team to build on,” states Khanna.
About Ara Paul
Paul was born on March 1, 1929, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He studied at the University of Idaho and earned his PhD at the University of Connecticut. He pursued postdoctoral work in biochemistry at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and took a teaching position at Butler University in Indianapolis before joining the U-M faculty in 1957. Paul specialized in pharmacognosy; he studied hallucinogenic compounds from various sources, including fungi, mushrooms, and cacti. In later years, he explored ethnopharmacology, even spending time with a shaman in Mexico.
A beloved instructor who made sure he knew students by name, Paul received the College of Pharmacy Outstanding Teaching Award; among his national honors, he received the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education Distinguished Former Fellow Profile Award and was appointed as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After 20 years as dean, Paul was named Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus of the College in 1996. He continued his commitment and active engagement as an educator, leader, and fundraiser until his passing. “Ara was a friend to many of us, and we are incredibly grateful for his dedicated service and the impact he had on the University and the pharmacy profession,” states Ellingrod.
Ara G. Paul leaves behind an enduring legacy in the College and the pharmacy field. He is remembered by many for his leadership and commitment to education, his significant contributions to the field of pharmacognosy, and his warmth, curiosity, and incredible generosity. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and the countless lives he touched throughout his remarkable career and life.
“Ara loved the College of Pharmacy. I could always count on him defending and promoting the institution in its quest for excellence, which he did throughout his professional life, even to the end.” Ascione reflects.
He is survived by his beloved wife Shirley, sons John and Richard, granddaughter Amelia, and several cousins.
A memorial service will be held in Ann Arbor at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy Ara G Paul and Shirley W Paul Scholarship fund.
If you would like to send a card/letter to the Paul Family, you can do so through the following address:
The Paul Family
C / O: U-M College of Pharmacy
428 Church St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
*Please note, if you mail in a memorial gift, it should be sent to the attention of the Advancement Office.