Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 14, 2001

New dean of social work named

Following a national search, Pitt has named a new School of Social Work dean.

Larry E. Davis, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at Washington University in St. Louis, succeeds David E. Epperson, who is retiring as dean after 28 years.

"I plan no dramatic changes," Davis told the University Times in a phone interview this week. "This is one of the finest schools of social work already in the country, and I think it's poised for greater things.

"I think the 'trajectory' of the school is the right one: to retain and build on the efforts of the faculty and balance them with a strong commitment to community involvement."

Davis, 55, came to Washington University in 1977 as assistant professor of social work and psychology. He was promoted to associate professor in 1983 and professor in 1996. Prior to that, Davis was an adjunct professor in the doctoral program at Norfolk State University School of Social Work in Virginia.

In announcing the appointment, which becomes effective Aug. 1, Provost James Maher stated, "I have great confidence that Dr. Davis will provide the dynamic academic leadership needed to guide the School of Social Work through the exciting era of changes which the field of social work appears to be entering."

Davis said one way social work is changing is the greater reliance on external funding, especially for larger projects. "And seeking such funding will be an important part of my job. There's also more emphasis on evidenced-based research and an empirical focus."

Davis's primary research interests are: race, gender and class dynamics; adolescents and young adults; small group behavior, and life choices for adolescent success. "We just this year completed a study on race relations, housing, education — who's dropped out, who stays in school and why — comparing St. Louis today with St. Louis 10 years ago, and it's that kind of experience I can bring to social work research in the Pittsburgh area," Davis said. He added that he is seasoned in securing federal and foundation grants, including from the National Institutes of Health.

Davis has published numerous articles, chapters and books and serves as editor or editorial board member of several professional journals, including Social Work With Groups and the Journal of Social Service Research.

He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology at Michigan State University, and he holds a master's in social work, a master's in psychology and a doctorate in social work and psychology from the University of Michigan.

A native of Saginaw, Michigan, his visit to Pittsburgh as a finalist for the dean's position was his first, Davis said. "I thought Pittsburgh was delightful. I was very impressed. I think people think of Pittsburgh as this smoky place, which it certainly is not. It also has that East-Coast feel to it, which I like. I met the administration and most of the faculty in the school and a few of the trustees. There's a real sense of community there. The faculty struck me as eager to go beyond the work they've been doing, which is already outstanding."

Davis said Pitt's social work school was well-positioned in the Pittsburgh community. "But, as dean, I'd like to be visible and available. I've always had a good rapport with the media and would like to build that with the media [in Pittsburgh]."

Davis, who has appeared on national programs including "The Phil Donahue Show," said getting attention for the school's projects was important. "As dean, I see my myself in the role of player-coach: I'd like to maintain an active academic role, by keeping my hand in doing research and maybe teach once in a while, though not right away. I'm also looking forward to getting out in the community and fostering those relationships that the school has."

At Monday's Senate Council meeting, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg called Davis "one of the most distinguished members of the faculty of the school that many people consider to be the finest school of social work in the country. Of course, he will have Dave Epperson's super-sized shoes to fill."

During Epperson's tenure as dean, the school has achieved national prominence, ranking among the top 10 percent of the 140 graduate social work programs in the United States. Enrollment in the school has more than tripled to 750 students.

–Peter Hart

Leave a Reply