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Social Work Dean Larry E. Davis' Contributions Leave the World a ‘Better, Fairer Place’

Larry E. Davis
A reputation as one of the nation’s top 10 social work schools. The nationally renowned Center on Race and Social Problems. A commitment to remain an advocate for social causes.

All of these are part of the lasting legacy for Larry E. Davis as he steps down at the end of the 2017-18 academic year as the University of Pittsburgh’s dean of the School of Social Work, Donald M. Henderson Professor and founding director of the race center.

“Larry has transformed Pitt into one of the nation’s top destinations to study social work,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “At the same time, he has dedicated his career to issues of race, civil rights and social justice and inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps. Our university community is grateful for his many contributions, and our world is a better, fairer place because of his efforts.”

Patricia E. Beeson, provost and senior vice chancellor, said: “Larry has driven the School of Social Work along a dynamic path of growth and transformation, positioning it for continued recognition and success. He has also provided University-wide leadership on a number of issues, including in his role as director of the Center on Race and Social Problems. His impact on the school and the University will be felt for years to come.”

Under Davis’ leadership since 2001, the school has advanced in the rankings of the nation’s top social work schools by U.S. News and World Report. TheBestSchools.org also has ranked the Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program fourth in the country.

“There are still a lot of things I want to accomplish,” said Davis, who is contemplating writing another book and plans to continue teaching and advocating for social causes.

Davis’ scholarly accomplishments as a pioneer in his field have been recognized through numerous awards such as the 2018 Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Distinguished Career Achievement Award. He also is the first person to receive both the SSWR honor and the Council on Social Work Education Career Achievement Award, which was presented to him in 2016.

As the founding director of the Center on Race and Social Problems, he has worked since its opening in 2002 to advance applied social science research on race, ethnicity and color. Under his direction, the center issued two comprehensive reports, one in 2007 and another in 2015, titled "Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities." These studies have been used by government leaders in the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to plot strategies and make policy decisions on issues such as affordable housing.

Davis has written, edited or co-authored a number of books, the most recent being “Why Are They Angry With Us? Essays on Race,” which addresses race in relationship to incarceration, immigration, individual identity and other topics.

 Other examples of his leadership include:

  • Development of a new study abroad course for social work graduate students called Cuban Social Policy Issues. Every spring term, 8-10 students travel to the historically rich city of Havana to study social conditions and meet with community leaders and staff at public health agencies and other institutions.
  • Refashioning of the school’s doctoral program for the 21st century, while the Master of Social Work degree program now requires students to go into the region’s neighborhoods earlier to fulfill practicum requirements.
  • Increased research funding fourfold since 2003 along with a large increase in the number of published articles by faculty members.
  • Founding of the journal Race and Social Problems, a multidisciplinary forum for issues germane to race and its relationship to psychological, socioeconomic, political and cultural problems.
  • Development of the School’s Browne Leadership Fellows Program, a cross-disciplinary initiative. Pitt undergraduates in non-social work majors attend monthly symposia and complete a service project to implement the values and ethics in social work training into their own fields. An art major, for example, could experience the rewards of spearheading a community mural project.
  • Hosting of a four-day conference in 2010 called Race in America. Scholars, students, national experts, leaders of industry and keynote speaker Julian Bond all convened on the Pitt campus to discuss ways to promote a more racially equitable society.

Davis earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Michigan State University along with master’s degrees in social work and psychology and a PhD in both social work and psychology from the University of Michigan. He received the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award at Michigan’s School of Social Work and in 2015 was inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

A search committee will be formed to identify his successor.