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Tropman Celebrates 50 Years: A Labor of Love

Professor John Tropman

This fall marks the 50th year of John Tropman’s career as an educator at the University of Michigan. Since 1965, when he began teaching classes as an ambitious young doctoral student, Tropman has dedicated himself to his self-professed “labor of love” — the education and training of future leaders and innovators in the social service sector.

Tropman says he has always delighted in having the opportunity to teach students who share his passion for excellence in leadership, and he’s widely known for doing so with grace and good humor. A prolific writer, Tropman has produced (alone and in collaboration with others) more than 40 books, including Supervision and Management In Nonprofits and Human Services: How Not To Become The Administrator You Always Hated. He has written dozens of articles and contributed to numerous scholarly and professional publications on topics ranging from community organization strategies, entrepreneurship and nonprofit governance and policy decision-making.

His passion for social work and nonprofit management was inspired in part by the work of his late father, Elmer J. Tropman, a former executive director of the Health and Welfare Planning Association of Pittsburgh. Tropman laments the fact that many of the problems we face in society today would be familiar to his father.

“We’ve made progress in a great many areas but when it comes to human problems, we’ve barely moved the needle. The focus of our management curriculum at U-M today is based on our knowledge of what nonprofits have to cope with, things that we call “wicked problems.” There are no solutions to wicked problems, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work on them and be impactful.”

All of our careers are dependent on others. When I look back at my career, I see an entire group of people who encouraged me and propelled me forward.

Tropman has indeed been impactful. In 1982, he helped create the groundbreaking 16-month MSW program to position new graduates in the job market months ahead of the competition. 

He’s held key faculty positions including interim dean and associate dean at U-M SSW; head of the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science; chair of the Michigan Society of Fellows; acting director of the Institute of Gerontology; and chair of advisory committees to the vice president for academic affairs, the vice president for state relations and the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty.

In January 2015 he launched the Leadership in Community Benefit Organizations (LCBO) program within the SSW. As director, Tropman oversees an immersive, leading-edge management and leadership program, which offers organized course content, workshops, career advising, networking and a nationally recognized certificate program of the network for Social Work Management.

“We created the LCBO program to provide a richer, more inclusive experience that teaches skills and imparts the confidence needed to lead an organization and innovate ways to improve and make an impact in the community,” Tropman said.

Currently the Henry J. Meyer Collegiate Professor of Social Work, he offers courses on executive leadership and policy development. As adjunct professor of management and organizations, Michigan Ross, Tropman has offered numerous courses on organizational issues. He also has taught effective decision-making and creativity for the University’s Executive Education Program.

Living in Ann Arbor with his wife Penny, a clinical social worker and adjunct lecturer at U-M, Tropman maintains a busy off-campus schedule as well, providing strategic planning, development of effective decision systems, managing change and executive training guidance as a consultant to nonprofit, for-profit and governmental entities.

I have known John for 25 years, as a professor, dissertation committee member, co-author, co-director of ELI and mentor. John is a sage who has a positive impact on the lives of many because of his ability to lead from any position, his vision for collective impact and his passion for developing talent.

Lynn Wooten, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, Michigan Ross, University of Michigan

In the future, Tropman hopes to see more schools of social work following U-M SSW’s lead in creating progressive continuing education programs like the Executive Leadership Institute (ELI), which is co-sponsored with Ross. Tropman and Ross Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Lynn Wooten created the twoyear certificate program in cooperation with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to provide experiential learning, networking and succession planning for emerging leaders of highimpact nonprofit organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges we face as social workers is that we work with professionals from many other disciplines—for example, medicine, law, public health and business—and yet we train alone. Looking ahead, we need to invest a considerable amount of our training in collaboration and partnership with these professionals.”

Looking ahead to his own future, Tropman says he’ll continue writing, teaching and consulting.

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