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Building Diversity in Leadership: The Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science

Richard English, Bogart Leashore, Peter Vaughan, Larry Davis

  • Richard English:
    MSW '64, PhD '70
  • Bogart Leashore:
    PhD '79
  • Peter Vaughan:
    PhD, '77
  • Larry Davis:
    MSW '73, PhD, '77

Since its formal inception in 1956, the School's Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science has been a unique model for advancing interdisciplinary scholarship, education, and practice. Not only was this program the first of its kind in awarding Ph.D. degrees in social work and one of five social science disciplines, but it also became recognized as the training foundation for an entire generation of deans, directors, and other leaders in the profession. 

Among these leaders is a particular group of four African American men who all received their Ph.D.s from the program in the 1970s and who continue to share a particularly meaningful bond with the School. Individually, their participation in the program provides examples of intellectual journeys that sometimes serendipitously ended up in social work. Collectively, their careers illustrate the contribution of this program to leadership in the profession and to diversity in this leadership that did not exist at the time of their own training.

The School's intellectual leadership and legacy of campus-wide collaboration have been epitomized by this program, the foundations of which were established in 1953 with an interdisciplinary seminar on the research basis for welfare practice, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. This was followed by the creation of a coordinating committee on social welfare research, and by the 1956 approval of the Horace Rackham School of Graduate Studies of a joint Ph.D. program linked with five social science disciplines, which accepted its first students in 1957. The program was first directed by the late Professor Henry Meyer.

Richard English (MSW '64, PhD '70) has been Dean of Howard University School of Social Work since 1985 and claims that the doctoral program's "integration of social work and social science taught all of us a way of thinking and problem-solving that Richard English was long-lasting." English is a past President of the Council on Social Work Education and is Editor-in-Chief of the 19'h edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work.

He came to study at the University of Michigan not once, but twice-first as a Woodrow Wilson Graduate Fellow in the Department of History in 1958, and subsequently as a Master's and Doctoral Student in the School of Social Work. His hope as an undergraduate student at Talladega College was to be the second African American recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, and after becoming one of two finalists, he selected the University of Michigan over Harvard University because of geographic familiarity and proximity to family as a Michigan native.

His choice of social work as a profession, however, was influenced by a departure from academia through service both in Flint's Urban League in 1959 and in Operation Crossroads Africa (a precursor of the Peace Corps) through which he was stationed in Ghana in 1960. Both experiences were influential in opening his eyes to effective models of community development and empowerment. Following his return, he was told about the School's Doctoral Program and its unique opportunity to combine scholarship in social work with a social science.

The experience, he says, introduced him to a fundamental way of thinking that he views as the legacy of Michigan and an approach that has stayed with him, in which one focuses on "asking discerning questions rather than figuring out immediately what the answers should be." Within the program, he cites Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri as a key mentor and the person who encouraged him to join the program in the first place and who provided important career advice at other points in his life. He also cites Professors Emeriti Eugene Litwak, Ed
Thomas, Henry Meyer, Philip Booth, and Robert Vinter as other influential mentors. According to English, Litwak in particular "made unique contributions to my intellectual development as a social work educator! sociologist, and helped me to develop a sociological imagination about the world."

English feels that the Program's strengths have influenced his demeanor as a dean for the past 18 years, particularly in encouraging him to be involved in curricular development to "organize and present knowledge in order to educate practitioners and link findings to interventions" and in the selection of faculty. His capabilities as an administrative leader also were shaped, he says, by his service as Assistant Dean in the School from 1971-74 and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs within the University of Michigan, the first African American to serve in that capacity.

He regards both of these as "wonderful experiences that permitted me to get to know the University I loved dearly and the opportunity to work with fine human beings" including Presidents Emeriti Robben Fleming and Harold Shapiro, as well as Emeritus Vice President for Academic Affairs Frank H.T. Rhodes.

His greatest joys as Dean have included a summer spent last year at Oxford University (finally fulfilling his undergraduate dream) and mentoring young Howard faculty, including "shamelessly recommending visits to Ann Arbor!" His experience at Howard, he says, "has been enriching, but Michigan taught me everything I know."

Recognized for his ground-breaking work on African American families, English taught the School's first course on black families. He was not only a colleague but a mentor to other students, especially the cadre of African American students in the School at the time. Among these was Bogart Leashore (PhD '79), whose PhD thesis committee he chaired. Leashore has served as Dean of Hunter College School of Social Work since 1991. As a sociology major at Xavier University, and subsequently as a social work practitioner at Howard University Hospital, Leashore was attracted by the Doctoral Program's interdisciplinary opportunity to wed social science findings to social service applications.

He cites Richard English, his teacher and mentor, as being instrumental in helping him combine disciplines in his thesis on interracial households in Detroit between 1850 and 1880. He also cites Irwin Epstein, whom he regards as having "transformed from faculty member to wise counsel," and the late Henry Meyer, whose hospitality and generosity were instrumental to his knowledge development.

Leashore notes that the program at that time included faculty whose prolific work represented the key texts used in the profession. He notes that faculty such as Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri (who served as Director of the Doctoral Program at that time), Professor Emeritus Dee Kilpatrick, and Professor Emeritus Robert Vinter also were influential in his training, as was Dean Emeritus Philip Fellin. Together, he feels that they made a critical difference in his adjustment from the environment of a small, historically black college in the south to a large university in the Midwest, noting that they helped him view this as "an adaptation, rather than an obstacle." The presence of a critical mass of African American students in the School at that time also helped. He credits much of his scholarly interest in child welfare, in which he continues to be active, to fellow student Lawrence Gary (MSW '67, PhD '70) with whom he worked after completing his Ph.D.

Leashore has remained an active scholar, serving on key panels and committees, co-editing a special issue of The journal of Child Welfare, and co-editing a book on African American children and child welfare with SSW alums Sandra Stukes Chipungu (MSW '73, PhD '79) and Joyce Everett (MSW '72). As a dean, he has tried to model certain features of his school on Michigan, including emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and continuing a strong curriculum.

As the outgoing President of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work, he has noted the high recognition factor attached to his Michigan training and the unique features of its Doctoral Program, noting how "other institutions emulate it as a model." Leash ore claims that he "went into the program innocent and na·ive, not realizing the longterm impact it would have on my life and career."

Accompanying this professional impact has been the long-term friendships and bonds Leashore maintained with colleagues, including Peter Vaughan (PhD, '77), who was admitted to the Doctoral Program at the same time and who still refers to Leashore as "a great babysitter for my daughter." Vaughan, who has served as Dean of Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service since 2000, had a somewhat nontraditional experience  as a doctoral student who was a married father, a Vietnam veteran, and a commuter living in Detroit. As an older
student who had received his M.S.W. from Wayne State more than ten years earlier, he arrived with a very well defined, geographically specific, practiceoriented social mission of addressing the health care of African Americans in innercity Detroit.

Vaughan describes his doctoral program training experience as "transformative" and as a mechanism that allowed him to "stop looking for that which was obvious and appreciate the value of a theoretical perspective to guide practice." He cites Professor Emerita Sheila Feld (see page 14 for a profile) as an "enriching mentor, coach, and teacher," noting that she had "an incredible way of believing in other people's dreams and helping them come true." He also cites Professor Emerita Sallie Churchill as a person who said "if you need a friend, I'm here."

As a dean, Vaughan acknowledges that a "by-product of the Doctoral Program education was leadership modeling" from such examples as Dean Emeritus Philip Fellin and the late Henry Meyer, and especially from Professor Emeritus Dee Kilpatrick. Vaughan notes that it was
Ki lpatrick who "really oriented me to doctoral education and to the deaning process." He describes himself as a "systems and organization builder" who, as Dean, tries to "engage with students regarding where they're headed." The bonds he established with facu lty and fellow students are lasting ones.

Vaughan's dissertation acknowledges fellow student Larry Davis (MSW '73, PhD, '77) with "thanks for being real." Davis entered the Joint Doctoral Program at the same time as Vaughan, also pursuing psychology with social work. Davis, who has served as Donald M. Henderson Professor and Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work since 2001, claims that "nobody in the world had a better social science education" than the one he received in the Program. He views the Joint Doctoral Program as having
shaped him professionally. As a member of the faculty at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work for 24 years, where he was E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity before assuming his present deanship, Davis quotes GWB Dean
Shanti Khinduka as having referred to that institution as "a school that the Michigan graduates built."

Among his key mentors were the late Norma Radin, as well as Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri and Professor Emeritus Charles Garvin, whom he viewed almost as surrogate parents. He also cites the late Henry Meyer for informal seminars he hosted with his wife, Suzanne, at his home on a weekly basis, as an effective exposure to highlights of the social science disciplines.

The older I get, the more I realize that nothing beats a good education, and nothing really beats a good theoretical education.

-Larry Davis

His strong friendships with Vaughan, English, and Leashore also have endured. Partially because of these bonds and also because of the unique nature of the education, he refers to his training as the "best of times which prepared me for my entire career" noting that he "still lectures on what I learned in the program-that theory allows you to transcend situations." He notes that "the older I get, the more I realize that nothing beats a good education, and nothing really beats a good theoretical education."

Professor Emerita Sheila Feld remembers all of these former students fondly as a faculty mentor and as a former Assistant Dean, and notes that many of the features that characterized the uniqueness of the program remain today. According to Feld, the program's relatively small size has remained a benefit, allowing "a highly personalized training environment where nobody gets lost and where each student is able to draft their own distinctive course of study."

The program's size, she notes, also encourages familiarity with faculty, which has led not only to effective training but to effective modeling for those students who went on to pursue academic careers. Feld indicates that the School's continuing atmosphere of collegiality "promotes respect for differing perspectives and a diversity of opinions" which may have served these people well in their eventual preparation as deans. She also notes that the University's support and recognition of the program has facilitated its success and has helped it serve as a model for other institutions.

As a fellow Doctoral Program student at that time, Professor Robert Joseph Taylor also recalls these four individuals as friends and colleagues. At a time when there were no African American deans, these individuals were trained within a cadre of minority students who together formed a critical mass. To have three of them complete their training together with the fourth as a key mentor is unique, he feels, in contributing to this "concentration of highly respected African American leaders in the field who all graduated within the same decade from
the same program."

According to Professor David Tucker, who currently serves as the Program's Director, the Joint Doctoral Program ranks second only to Brandeis University's School of Social Policy in producing the largest number of deans of schools of social work. He notes that the program historically has been based on the premise that social work can have a more enduring and significant identity as a domain of both scholarship and professional activity if its graduates are "grounded intellectually in fields relevant to understanding disadvantaged, oppressed, or vulnerable populations; trained to develop modes of thinking, analysis, and criticism appropriate to a scholarly field; and skilled in developing theoretical and empirical forms of knowledge that have the potential to ameliorate major social problems." 

He notes that the success of these four particular program graduates in serving as leaders in the profession also attests to the program's contribution to diversity in leadership in the profession. He feels that they help reaffirm the importance and impact of affirmative action within and beyond the University, in terms of capitalizing on African American human capital. In addition to their individual accomplishments, he notes that their "contributions are collective as individuals who are in a position to influence the lives of many."

Written by Nili Tannenbaum

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