In Memoriam: Professor Dennis C. Smith

It is with the greatest sadness and regret that we note the passing of Dennis Smith, longtime NYU Wagner faculty member, colleague, and friend.

Dennis, who died July 27 after a lengthy bout with cancer, was a leading, beloved citizen of the Wagner community for more than four decades, devoting himself tirelessly to students, fellow scholars, alumni, and school staff. He was a ready and effective collaborator, and maintained extremely strong ties to his students, long after they had left his classroom and gone on to important roles in public agencies and nonprofit organizations around the world. He offered valued feedback, connections, and encouragement to many.

He himself was influential as a noted criminal justice scholar, and worked alongside the NYPD and its commissioners. In both his own scholarship and in research undertaken for the City and the Police Department, he became a herald for the rigorous use of an agency’s data to shape decisions on how it uses its resources, and showed that performance-based management could be transplanted to other government agencies and nonprofits to improve outcomes in education, public health, and poverty alleviation.

Dennis earned his Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University and began teaching shortly afterward at NYU Wagner. He received tenure in 1980. He taught classes in public policy and management of government and nonprofit agencies to generations of students.

He directed NYU Wagner’s Public Administration program for nine years and served two years as associate dean. He also served as Chair of the NYU Faculty Senators Council during the 1983-’83 academic year.

Through a flourishing partnership with Accenture, he oversaw a well-attended series of management meetings with leading City officials. This “Leading Large-Scale Change” program began during the Bloomberg administration and continues strongly under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Our mission at NYU Wagner is to give students the skills they need to make a difference and bring about enduring change on issues that matter. Dennis most certainly did meet and exceed that standard for the issues, and people, he so deeply cared about.