A History of the College of Social Work

In the 1930s our country was emerging from the Great Depression. At its most serious point, one-third of the nation’s workforce was unemployed. That’s when the federal government took a new, larger role in social legislation. The Social Security Act of 1935 established a system of retirement benefits, old age pensions and Aid to Dependent Children. Qualified personnel were needed to staff these programs and the social work profession was ideally situated to expand along with these social policy changes.

In 1938 the UK Board of Trustees established a Department of Social Work within the College of Arts and Sciences. It was the wife of the university president, Frances Jewell McVey, who first had a dream of offering social work training at UK. Frances Jewell, born near Wilmore, had an interesting academic career before she married President Frank LeRond McVey. She was a graduate of Vassar, earned a master’s degree, and was a faculty member of the English Department at UK prior to becoming Dean of Women from 1921-23. In the fall of 1923 she resigned as Dean to marry President McVey.

On August 7, 1938, Dr. Vivian M. Palmer was hired to head the new Department of Social Work at UK. Formerly she was an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at UK and taught at Texas State College for Women in Denton, and at Macalaster College, St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Palmer had also served as Director of Local Criminal Research at the University of Chicago.

Courses in the social work department were offered on the undergraduate and graduate levels, with emphasis on the master’s level program. Four months after its creation, the UK social work program was accredited by the American Association of Schools of Social Work.

Dr. Harold Wetzel joined the UK faculty September 1, 1944 as Professor and Head of the Department of Social Work. Wetzel had earned a master’s degree in sociology at Ohio State and had taught sociology there for 10 years before coming to UK’s social work program. As the department expanded, Wetzel hired Professor Constance Popeo (later, Wilson), newly arrived in Kentucky with her master’s degree from Boston University. Professor Wilson joined the UK faculty in 1954. She became acting head of the Department in 1968 when Professor Wetzel went on sabbatical. She was instrumental in hiring Dr. Ernest Witte to do a feasibility study of the need for a generalist graduate program in social work in Kentucky; in July 1969 Witte became the first dean of the new College of Social Professions (the name was changed to the College of Social Work in 1980).

In 1974 Professor Ronda Connaway of Washington University, St. Louis, was hired as Dean to succeed Dean Witte upon his retirement. The off-campus MSW program in Hazard was developed under Dean Connaway, and more off-campus programs were developed and expanded under S. Zafar Hasan, the third dean of the College.

The Chancellor appointed Edgar Sagan in 1996 to serve as Interim Dean during a national search. He served for two years and in the beginning of the 1998 school year, Kay S. Hoffman, previously the Director of the Social Work Program at Radford University in Virginia, became the 5th Dean of the College of Social Work.

Under Dean Hoffman’s leadership, the College expanded its research and intellectual inquiry components with the creation of the Training Resource Center, the CATS Clinic, the Center for Violence Against Children and the Institute for Work Place Innovation, (iWin).

James P. “Ike” Adams, Jr. joined the College of Social Work in 2009 as the 6th Dean of the College. He recently served as Dean of the School of Social Work, and Executive Assistant to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Alabama.

Accreditation is always an important issue in social work education. Beginning in 1938 our graduate social work program was accredited by the American Association of Schools of Social Work. Reaccreditation of both Masters in Social Work and Bachelor of Arts in Social Work programs occurred in 1980, 1987, 1994, 2002 and again in 2009.