Q&A - Life of the socially
Health-policy expert Edward F. Lawlor has
been dean of the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) since 1998.
came to Chicago in 1984, the same year he received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University.
A professor with joint appointments in SSA and the Irving B. Harris Graduate School
of Public Policy Studies, Lawlor has written on medical indigence, health-care
reform, and health administration and policy for the aged and poor. Founding editor
of the Public Policy and Aging Report, he has written a book on Medicare
SSA was founded by activists in
the settlement-house movement as the independent Chicago School of Civics and
Philanthropy, which merged with the University in 1920. The school has always
emphasized both practical training for caseworkers-including the current fieldwork
requirement of 1,000-plus hours-and a solid foundation in social science and social
What are SSA's
Our challenge is not only moving forward this school
and its research but also shaping the social-work profession. There is more change
out in the streets than at any time since 1965. In this city alone we're in the
midst of pivotal stages of welfare reform, massive education reform, the transformation
of public housing, and a whole set of changes less visible to the public but equally
important in how abused and neglected children are cared for. We want to play
a change-agent role for our graduates in anticipating the profession's transformation.
In the long run, we must continue to attract the
best students who will also pay our very high tuition-as it is, 90 percent of
our students receive financial aid. We face an interesting puzzle of economics.
We offer an expensive graduate education and a career path that offers very little
pay. To balance that, we've taken internal steps-developing, for example, a career-services
office and in some ways working more like a business school, creating strong relationships
with outside constituents to build pathways for graduates.
SSA see Chicago, first and foremost, as its constituency?
because it's where we live and partly because of the opportunities here for what
we do: research and service. Both former President Sonnenschein and President
Randel have viewed the University's work as contributing in significant ways to
the city, and in important ways SSA does that-for example, with our student fieldwork
also are a national and international institution. Our graduates often
go into national and international policy. We are developing a faculty international
exchange program, and we work on global issues. So although Chicago is our home-and
the South Side the center of our world-that's not the whole picture.
do faculty fit in?
One change with many implications
is that, because of retirements, in a five-year period we will turn over about
half of our faculty. We've hired ten new faculty members in the past four years,
and we are negotiating with two more. By the end of next year we may have 15 new
one hand, our faculty retirees are the great ones. They have been leaders in the
field and great citizens of the school-just this July two former deans retired.
So the turnover presents a big challenge: we want to get the very best
people we can, and we want to socialize them into this place. The stakes in faculty
recruiting have gone up substantially. On the other hand, the turnover provides
an unusual opportunity to think strategically about assembling faculty groups
in specific areas.
is faculty recruitment focused?
This year we reached a faculty consensus
about two areas: community development and mental health. We've been extremely
successful on the community-development front, an effort that's been reinforced
by a generous gift from the McCormick Tribune Foundation. This year we granted
tenure to one community-development professor, hired two new faculty, and now
have a chaired professorship to fill.
is "community development"?
It's an umbrella term for community
organizing: community planning; community economic development; a new international
field called community building; another new area called community-centered practice,
which uses community resources to assist individual families. A virtue of our
new faculty resources is that we'll also have a portfolio of elective courses
in this huge area.
SSA's notable history affect your approach to the future?
improve the quality of life for vulnerable individuals, families, groups, and
communities through education, scholarship, and service-grew out of the settlement-house
movement. All of our faculty feel some responsibility to that history. So an important
challenge is to figure out the service piece.
of our activities-obviously the fieldwork program-grow naturally from our educational
program. Our students spend 255,000 hours a year doing fieldwork. We're spending
serious time thinking about that program. This year the Council on Social Work
Education accreditation body has waived many of SSA's auditing requirements for
reaccreditation so we can develop a field-education model for other schools-a
fact that itself indicates SSA's notable history.
working on other fronts to define meaningful outreach, perhaps in the form of
technical assistance and professional education for social-work agencies. We already
work closely with the Chicago Public Schools, and we have an increasing number
of student-outreach activities.
is most exciting about SSA's work?
This school has the most interdisciplinary
faculty you'll find. We have people whose disciplinary backgrounds-psychology,
law, economics, social work, anthropology-represent an amazing diversity of methods.
We have faculty who work in poverty and welfare, child welfare, mental health,
substance abuse, health care, schools, early childhood development. And we have
faculty who work at different levels-from the intra-psychic all the way to globalization.
We could have an enterprise in which everyone
does their own work. But SSA's vision is to develop new ways of both understanding
human behavior and creating social services, and each must inform the other. For
example, people who think about managing systems-designing and operating child-welfare
services-should learn from those who know about early childhood development. So
the question becomes, what makes for a system that creates developmental opportunities
for young kids?
We're creating structures to bring
together practitioners and scholars. For example, the faculty-proposed Institute
of Social Policy and Practice is modeled on the old Bell Labs, which brought together
the engineers and the basic scientists-the engineers had problems to solve, and
the scientists had theory and science to bring to bear. Our faculty's idea is
to join with a small number of external partners-agencies with problems to solve.
By creating long-term relationships, we'll get a better understanding of agencies'
work, and they'll get research with major import for what they do.