The University Record, April 11, 1994

No. 1 ranking not enough for School of Social Work

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

Although recently ranked as the top graduate program of its kind in the United States, the School of Social Work and its faculty are not content to rest on their laurels in research, teaching and service.

“One of the dangers is that when one does get recognition, there might be the potential for complacency,” says social work Prof. John Tropman. “Basically you need to change when you’re at the top of your form, change before you have to, not when you have to.

“So the paradox that may face us is that we’re ideally suited to take innovative steps, but that very ideal position may also create a view like ‘Why change?’ ”

In order to remain one of the best social work programs in the country, Dean Paula Allen-Meares believes that the school must continue to be a bellwether of innovation and change in social work education.

“The School of Social Work has an excellent position in its field and a positive reputation among peer institutions, our alumni have obtained high positions in the social service community and academe, and we have capable faculty who make outstanding contributions to knowledge development, instruction and the profession,” she says.

“The question before us is: ‘Will the school rank among the very best in the year 2000?’ We should take nothing for granted, nor should we assume that our previous performance record will maintain our ranking.”

Last fall, faculty members began taking steps to ensure that the School of Social Work remains in the forefront of social work education. Faculty retreats and a schoolwide survey were conducted to elicit ideas on how the school could best serve its students, faculty and society in general.

As a result, some faculty task groups have been formed to discuss ways in which new ideas and strategies can be incorporated into the school’s mission and curriculum.

Among these are the increased recruitment of high-quality students and faculty; programs to meet the needs of non-traditional students; greater research emphasis in areas of children, youth and families, and physical and mental health; inclusion of technology in the curriculum; expanding opportunities for research grants and field stipends; review of the curriculum for possible changes; and maintaining an interdisciplinary curricular perspective.

Allen-Meares says that the school must attract more students on a national level and more minority students, increase financial aid and explore the feasibility of a part-time master’s program for non-traditional students.

In addition, she believes that strategic themes, such as social justice, advocacy, prevention, social change and an international/comparative perspective, should be infused throughout the curriculum.

Brett Seabury, associate professor of social work and co-chair of the school’s curriculum committee, says that major revisions to the curriculum are possible, but are now only being discussed.

“The process of how you revise a curriculum is itself a question that needs to be considered, even before you get down to ‘What should be in the curriculum? What should be changed?’ ” Sea-bury says. “We’re not at a point of knowing what we should do. We’re just trying to find out about how to revise it.”

Regardless of any curricular changes that may take place, Allen-Meares believes that an interdisciplinary approach to social work education is necessary.

“An interdisciplinary social science perspective at the master’s as well as doctoral levels offers the broad-based educational preparation needed for success in our field,” she says. “In addition to the fundamental knowledge needed for social work practice, specialized knowledge in the fields of mental health, health and education, among others, will be required.”

Prof. Charles Garvin, director of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in social work and social science, agrees.

“We need to continue to strengthen our ties with the social sciences through our doctoral program, through joint appointments between social work and other units, and by continuing to promote interdisciplinary research between us and scholars in other units,” he says.

Whatever challenges lie ahead for the School of Social Work in maintaining its lofty position as the leading social work program in the country, one thing is certain: the school takes seriously its role in creating and disseminating social innovation and change.

“The profession of social work has said, ‘Our job is to take a look not only at individuals, but at societies,’” Garvin says. “How can the influence of society be made more humane for individuals and how can individuals promote a better society for themselves?

“What we’re challenged to do is to continue to work away at our understanding of this individual-societal connection, which is at the heart of what social work is all about.”