Program Development during Fiscal Crisis: A Community/university Response

Article excerpt

This article discusses the often difficult and challenging process of setting up a new academic department, especially during a time of budget crisis. Furthermore it examines the role and purpose of the university, the place of so-called applied programs within the university, curriculum development of a new program, racial and cultural diversity at the university, and the overall relevance of the university as a vehicle for addressing community needs. The paper concludes with a discussion on how a Social Work faculty was able to use the university's mission to persuade its leadership into setting up a Social Work Department.

Keywords: MSW program development; mission; values & ethics, fiscal crisis


The development of a new academic program in higher education is both an exciting and a challenging experience. When such a program is introduced in a time of budgetary crisis and political unrest in the academy, the excitement and challenge escalates. While this is especially the case in California with its energy crisis, layoffs and cutbacks in the computer industry, similar circumstances impact the nation as well.

What we do in this article is to examine how a university responds to an acute community need while at the same time trying to maintain fiscal integrity during a time of budgetary crisis. We believe this article has relevance in that it addresses such issues as the role and purpose of the university, the place of so-called applied programs in the university, university politics, university/community relations, curriculum development, racial and cultural diversity, political influence, accrediting agencies and, ultimately, the overall relevance of the university as a vehicle for addressing community needs.

More specifically, we use the creation of a Master of Social Work degree program (MSW) at California State University East Bay (Formerly California State University Hayward) (CSUEB) and the multiple interactions with public social welfare agencies in its service area as the focus of this paper. As a regional university, CSU East Bay has a mission of serving the needs of its diverse multicultural and multicultural service area populations. On the other hand, within the university there is a tension between so-called "academic purists" and those interested in "applied or professional" programs. This tension is further exacerbated by the continuing demands from service area constituents that the university exists to serve the community.

This analysis reflects the experience of three faculty members assigned the task of delivering an accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program to a medium-sized state university in northern California. The team consists of one senior faculty member with more than thirty years experience in the system and two junior level faculty members with less experience in academia, but strong backgrounds as social work practitioners. In the pages that follow it will become evident that the delivery of a masters level professional program that effectively serves community needs requires a unique blend of experience that transcends academic and community interests, culture, history, practices, stereotypes, prejudices and customs.

The Need For MSW Level Social Workers

For more than thirty years members of the faculty in the department of Sociology and Social Services had intermittently proposed the establishment of an MSW program but were always rebuffed for the same reason--costs. The administrative response always revolved around the issue of cost with little discussion of need or service to the community.

In 2001 and 2002, the winds of change began to blow. These winds of change emanated, not from the campus, but from the community, various public social service providers and even the state legislature. Changes in state and federal law and a proliferation of children in foster care helped to produce a tremendous shortage of MSW trained social workers to manage the growth. …