Print This Issue

From the President and Interim Provost
May 26, 2009, Volume 55, No. 34

Reappointment of Richard Gelles as Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice

We have received the report of the Consultative Review Committee on the Reappointment of Richard Gelles as Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice (Almanac January 13, 2009), and we are delighted to recommend to the Trustees at their June meeting the reappointment of Dean Gelles for a second term, to run through June 30, 2014.

After a comprehensive review of Dean Gelles’ first term as Dean and the challenges and opportunities facing the School of Social Policy & Practice, we concur with the Consultative Committee’s conclusion that Dean Gelles has been a visionary leader whose first term has been marked by major accomplishments, including the development of a comprehensive strategic plan to transform the School’s mission, programs, and identity.

Dean Gelles is widely admired for his bold innovations and his strategic leadership in transforming the School. At the start of his first term as Dean, the then-School of Social Work faced significant challenges: aging facilities, a minimal endowment, a single revenue-generating program, and pronounced fluctuations in enrollment. Dean Gelles recognized that continuing on the same course posed substantial intellectual and financial risks to the School and began the effort to achieve a dramatic strategic transformation of the School that continues today. 

The Committee found many impressive strengths in the School of Social Policy & Practice and Dean Gelles’ leadership over the past six years, particularly, the growth of its faculty, the School’s improved financial condition, and the Dean’s strong record as a fundraiser. The School’s standing faculty has grown by more than 30 percent during Dean Gelles’ first term, and the School continues to welcome faculty from a variety of intellectual backgrounds, including scholars of history, law, and public health, in addition to those with formal backgrounds in social work and related fields. Three new degree programs (Master of Science in Non-Profit/Non-Governmental Organization Leadership, a Master of Science in Social Policy, and Doctorate in Clinical Social Work) have been created, and in 2005, the School changed its name from the School of Social Work to the School of Social Policy & Practice to reflect its broader programs and ambitions. In addition, Dean Gelles’ performance in expanding and developing a strong Board of Overseers and in fundraising have been exemplary—the School’s endowment grew from under $6 million in FY03 to over $13 million in FY08, the largest percentage growth (131%) among all of Penn’s Schools over that period. 

Today, with its diverse student body, interdisciplinary faculty, and extensive local engagement efforts, the School of Social Policy & Practice strongly embodies the ideals of the Penn Compact.  Despite its small size, the School makes major contributions to Penn’s local engagement and also is well-positioned to catalyze collaborations with the other 11 Schools of the University.

The transformation of the School begun by Dean Gelles is a work-in-progress. The challenges and opportunities facing the School of Social Policy & Practice are large and consequential, all the more so in light of the economic downturn. The Dean’s second term presents an opportunity to fully engage important constituencies of the School in its future well-being and success. Moving the School’s transformation forward over the next five years is essential to the achievement of the national stature and visibility envisioned in the School’s 2003 strategic plan. There is a strong commitment among the faculty, students, staff, alumni, Overseers, and University leadership to work with Dean Gelles in carrying through on the School’s strategic vision.

The Committee concluded that the School will benefit greatly from Dean Gelles’ continued leadership. We concur and look forward to working with him in the years ahead to ensure that the School of Social Policy & Practice becomes a global leader in both social work practice and public policy.

––Amy Gutmann, President
––Vincent Price, Interim Provost


Almanac - May 26, 2009, Volume 55, No. 34