Viewpoint from the Dean, Fall 2010

Published in the Fall 2010 issue of SSA Magazine

During my very first visit to SSA as a candidate for a faculty position six years ago, I recall starting off my colloquium to the SSA community by noting that SSA is a great institution in the many meanings of the word: great in SSA's historic role as one of the nation's first schools of social work, whose founding pioneers left an indelible commitment on the profession to pursue social justice and alleviate human suffering in rigorous and evidence-based ways; great in SSA's present day and enduring impact, with SSA faculty and graduates nationally and internationally recognized as among the most influential and talented leaders tackling the major social problems of our time; and great in SSA's culture, bringing together a community of scholars and students across multiple disciplines, collectively devoted to carrying out critically important work for our society with passionate integrity, mutual support, and trenchant analysis.

Having now humbly stepped up from the faculty role to the Deanship at SSA, my aim is to build from this greatness to raise our ambitions to an even higher level as we begin our second century of service. Core to this aim is unleashing the most talented faculty anywhere to tackle social welfare problems. We continue to strengthen our already preeminent team of faculty carrying out their work at SSA. This year we are joined by Professor mark Courtney, who has returned to SSA from the University of Washington, Assistant Professor Matthew Epperson from Columbia University, and Professor J. Curtis McMillen from Washington University in St. Louis. With these additions, SSA has significantly deepened its clinical and policy strengths, particularly in child welfare, and now has, without question, the premier cadre of faculty in the nation dedicated to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. Whereas many other schools are retrenching or holding steady in their faculty ranks, SSA will benefit from a University-wide faculty expansion initiative that will enable us to continue to strategically augment our faculty over the near-term future.

SSA's unique vibrancy, in part, stems from our distinctive tradition of supporting leading faculty who derive from multiple disciplinary backgrounds, collectively sharing a dedication to address the most intractable of social problems. for example, our faculty derive not only from social work, but also from psychology, sociology, political science, public policy, public health, economics, geography, and anthropology, among other disciplinary backgrounds. As one fascinating example of the cross-disciplinary, cutting-edge research taking place at SSA, in this issue of SSA Magazine we highlight the research of Assistant Professor E. Summerson Carr—both an anthropologist and social worker—who dissects the cultural and clinical assumptions shaping the language of professional practice in substance abuse treatment services in her new book (Scripting Addiction, Princeton University Press).

SSA's multiple disciplinary lenses also propel forward the innovation of effective responses to social problems across multiple levels. An example of this, and considered in this issue of SSA Magazine, is the growing shift in social welfare policies and practices toward a prevention paradigm—an approach that promises ways to reduce social problems before they occur while synergistically delivering both economic and social benefits to the wider society. no doubt, you will soon hear more about SSA's unique interdisciplinary activity, as we move ahead with a new Dean's initiative to establish hubs of interdisciplinary scholar networks across disciplinary lines situated at SSA, targeting the major social problems of our day.

SSA has also begun to systematically expand our international engagement. Last summer, eight of our students traveled to India to collaborate with and learn from colleagues at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, focusing on poverty and marginalization from a cross-national perspective. having met with these students,

I found their insights about the trip both thought-provoking and moving in the ways that such a cross-national urban experience was transformative for their professional trajectories. This issue of the magazine contains a special section dedicated to their trip— told from their point of view with a wonderful collage of photos.

I am inspired by our students and alumni who carry forward a deep commitment to address such complex and challenging concerns, and indeed I am impressed that so many of our alumni have taken up key leadership positions in the field. I am proud that SSA has served and continues to serve as a training ground for so many exceptional colleagues who shape the field, and whom we intend to recognize for their contributions. from alumni, we have already seen a growing recognition and support for the key role SSA plays in shaping their futures and serving those in need— even in the face of the economic downturn when so many more are struggling. We train students to enter into the most challenging of situations, against the odds, to raise up those who are coping with and confronting enormously difficult circumstances. In face of these difficult times, our students all the more so seek to make a tangible difference for those whom they serve. in this issue of SSA Magazine, our article, "Less money, more Problems," considers how many in our profession are coping, while dedicating their lives and careers to helping others in this most challenging economic environment.

As we raise our ambitions to make an even greater difference during these difficult times, we need the best-skilled and trained professionals possible to dedicate their careers to ensuring the well-being of others. our now more than century-old imperative at SSA is to continue to nurture the next generation of social work practitioners and leaders. our students make great sacrifices to come study at SSA to realize their dream of making a real difference in the lives of others, and it is the support of gifts from alumni and friends that make it wholly possible for so many of our students to fulfill this dream. As we anticipate an even greater role for SSA in the future, so too do we need even greater support to enable our students to best serve others, and for our faculty and alumni to lead the way in forging a more supportive, responsive, and just society.

I look forward to continuing to keep you informed about the inspiring work of the SSA community, and to partnering with you as we strive to improve the lives of those around us.

Neil Guterman, MSW, Ph.D., is the Dean and Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor in the School of Social Service Administration.

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