A Gifted Dean Supports His School

<p>Dean of the School of Fine Arts, David Woods. Photo provided by the School of Fine Arts</p>
David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts. Photo provided by the School of Fine Arts

Sometimes, one story can tell the whole of a person. For David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts, dozens of stories exist, but here is a particularly telling one:

A couple of years ago, Woods accompanied a group of UConn engineering and physics students to the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan. On the bus ride back, a student approached the head of the music department, who was sitting in a seat near Woods. “I was wondering if there are any opportunities for non-majors to take piano or saxophone lessons at the school,” the student said. But unless a student has a major in the subject, such pursuits are discouraged. No, he was told.

But Woods, who – unbeknownst to many on campus – is an accomplished saxophonist, was eavesdropping. He gave the student his card, and the student jokingly said, “You’re the dean? Is there anything you can do?” The next day, he e-mailed the student. “We have no studio space for you at this time,” he wrote. “However, my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in saxophone performance, and if you are interested, I could give you saxophone lessons myself.”

The student, David Lindsay, was stupefied. “I had to read the e-mail multiple times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” says Lindsay, who is majoring in neurophysiology and mathematics in the hopes of becoming a physician-scientist. “I was a freshman then. I’m a junior now, and I’ve been taking lessons with him since freshman year. He’s an expert in saxophone instruction.”

Dean Woods is a saxophone player and instructor, as well as an arts administrator. Stock photo

The tale is vintage Woods: He sees a need, he meets it. And now he is meeting another need, as the School of Fine Arts heads into its 50th year and a $5 million campaign to mark its anniversary. He has committed a planned gift of $100,000 to the school to jump-start the campaign. “I did it because UConn has been such a part of my life,” he says. “I really want to give back to the school.”

From his childhood in Topeka, Kan., where he put on puppet shows with his younger sister in playgrounds throughout the city (his father, a jazz trumpet player, delivered them and their puppet trailer to the appointed spots; his mother was a violinist), to later years when he played saxophone and performed in numerous theatrical productions, Woods has rejoiced in the arts at the same time that he has delighted in the instruction of them.

His stellar reputation has always preceded him: In one case, he was serving as dean at the University of Oklahoma when Indiana University’s School of Music decided it had to have him. The head of the search committee traveled to Woods’s home in Oklahoma unannounced, and when Woods didn’t open the door – he was out attending a play – the search committee head sat on the stoop, waiting. When Woods returned home, stunned by the unexpected visit, he agreed to visit IU. “And they sent a private plane to pick me up!,” he remembers. He took the job.

<p>Campaign logo</p>Celebrating his 10th year at UConn as dean of the School of Fine Arts has only served to further enhance his reputation for superior arts administration. But no matter who is sitting on his front porch trying to lure him away, his heart belongs to Storrs. It was that way from the first time he visited, back when he had been asked to evaluate UConn’s School of Fine Arts while still dean of the School of Music at IU. “I was extremely impressed with this campus,” he remembers. “So when I got a call asking, ‘Don’t you think you would like to come here?’ I said yes.”

Many people are very grateful he did. That includes Lindsay, the dean’s Friday-afternoon saxophone student.

“This past year, I auditioned for and got into the University’s symphonic band,” Lindsay says. “I’m in a saxophone quartet. My hopes have come to fruition because of Dean Woods. And through our lessons, I’ve gotten to know him as an incredible teacher, mentor, and friend.”

For more information on supporting the School of Fine Arts, please contact the Foundation’s development department.