BPD Update Online, Fall 2003
Reflections on the History of BPD
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Paul H. Stuart
Professor and Chair, Ph.D. Program in Social Work
The University of Alabama

Chair, Archives and History Committee
Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors


In this article, I won’t describe the history of BPD. Leslie Leighninger and I attempted that task in a monograph we prepared for the association with Jana Donahoe in 1993 and in a more accessible two-part series in the Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work that appeared at the end of the decade. Rather, I want to reflect on the experience of writing the history of the association and on what history may mean to the association, to our profession, and to each of us as social workers and baccalaureate educators.

When the opportunity came to work on the history of BPD, I had been teaching and writing social welfare history for nearly twenty years. Beginning in the late 1970s, I began to focus my research on the history of the social work profession and on social work education. Those of us who were active in the profession during the 1970s and 1980s will remember it as a time when the dominant social work professional organizations, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), both founded in the 1950s, were feeling the pressure of a growing number of specialty organizations, organizations that represented segments of the profession or of social work education that did not feel that the dominant professional organizations represented their interests. As a participant in the profession during those years, I was interested in understanding the process of professional organization. Especially interesting was the question of whether a profession like social work was best represented by one or two large organizations or whether a number of specialized organizations would better represent the interests of members.

Some ideas came from occupational sociology, especially a 1961 article by Rue Bucher and Anselm Strauss called "Professions in Process." Bucher and Strauss argued that professions are not unitary communities; they are in fact made up of segments that compete for resources in a number of recognizable arenas, including educational institutions, funding agencies, and professional organizations. Others, notably Leslie Leighninger, whose Social Work: Search for Identity (1987) traced the development of the social work profession from 1930 to 1960, had applied this idea to the social work profession. I attempted to use Bucher and Strauss' idea to examine school social work as a professional segment in a paper I presented at a school social work conference in 1985 and later published in Social Work in Education.

I had taught in several undergraduate programs, and was serving as chairperson of the BSW Program at the University of Alabama, so I was very aware of BPD when Joe Schriver asked Leslie and me to write a history of the organization for the tenth annual conference in 1992. It was an opportunity to extend the ideas about segments and professions that I had started with the school social work paper and it was an opportunity to work with Leslie, who had moved from directing the BSW Program at Western Michigan University to the Associate Dean position at Louisiana State University. Leslie knew the organization better than I did, having been active in BPD during her years as director of the BSW Program at Western Michigan.

We proceeded to gather information on the development of BPD. We asked members to share documentary material and interviewed as many early members of the organization as we could think of. Our work on the BPD history was enhanced by the assistance of University of Alabama Ph.D. students, two of whom elected to complete their required research practica working on the BPD history project. One of these students, Jana Donahoe, remained with the project and was a co-author of the monograph, together with Leslie and me. (Jana went on to write her dissertation on the history of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education [GADE], using the research methods she had learned in her research practicum. She now teaches at Delta State University in Mississippi.)

Several themes arose from our study of the development of BPD. The grass roots nature of the organization was important, with meetings characterized by informality and appreciation for the contributions of participants. The organization fostered the participation of people with diverse backgrounds. From the start, the organization's leadership included persons of color. BPD was an incubator for national leaders, persons who became prominent in CSWE and even the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD), the organization of MSW programs. These themes were important, but most interesting for me was BPDs origin as a constituent group of CSWE. Ironically, BPD organized undergraduate educators to save the Council during the fiscal crisis of 1982, when some graduate programs advocated breaking away from the organization. In the years immediately after 1982, a weakened CSWE limited expenditures and focused on accreditation. Participants viewed accommodations at a 1983 meeting for new baccalaureate program directors as sub-standard; this was the meeting at the convent that began BPDs transformation from an interest group to an independent organization. CSWE sponsored a second annual meeting in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1984, but withdrew from financial participation in 1985. Although they were nominally sponsored by CSWE, BPD organized and financed the 1985 Indianapolis meeting and the 1986 San Antonio meeting. In 1987, the organization sponsored the annual meeting in name as well as in fact.

During the first decade of the organization's existence, the annual meetings were relatively small and dominated by program directors. By the nineties, however, the meetings were large, reaching a high of 852 persons registered for the 1999 conference in St. Louis. Growth reflected the increasing number of undergraduate social work programs as well as the appeal of the conference to undergraduate educators (not only program directors) and students, as well as some graduate educators. Obviously, BPD was responding to a need.

BPD continued to sponsor sessions and activities at the CSWE Annual Program Meetings. CSWE continued to be a target for lobbying and a presence within BPD. Full membership in BPD was limited to baccalaureate program directors who were associated with programs accredited by CSWE and much attention has been given to insuring that undergraduate interests were represented in the larger organization. Much of the focus of BPD, then, seemed to be on representing the interests of a segment within the larger arena represented by CSWE.

In a similar vein, GADE and NADD represented the interests of doctoral and MSW education. Unlike these specialty organizations, however, BPD also began to serve some general functions - conducting an annual meeting that is much broader in scope than the interests of program directors, publishing a newsletter, BPD Update, and a scholarly journal, The Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work. While GADE and NADD also meet annually, their meetings tend to focus on narrow interests of the membership and they do not publish a journal. Of the three meetings, only BPD has a call for papers and puts on a broad based conference.

Today, BPD is a large organization with a variety of activities. The annual meeting is well attended; in addition, BPD is a significant presence at the CSWE APMs. The board of directors has adopted a strategic plan and coordinating the varied activities of the committees and task forces has become a major and sometimes daunting task. Although NADD and GADE remain relatively informal, other organizations have arisen to represent special interests among social work educators, notably the Society for Social Work Research, which also holds an annual meeting and publishes a journal.

The picture is similarly complex in the social work profession at large, of which social work education is only one, albeit an important segment. Separate organizations representing the interests of school social workers, hospital social directors, clinical social workers, state licensing boards, Christian social workers, and many others exist alongside NASW, sometimes cooperating with the organization and sometimes competing with it. The proliferation of professional journals, widely commented on in previous decades, is by now old news.

It is not surprising that in an era of increasing professional fragmentation there are calls for unity and amalgamation. Some commentators contend that social work has lost its former influence on social policy as it has become increasingly concerned with internecine issues and organizational reproduction. Others say that there are just too many meetings. In response to the complaint of professional fragmentation, BPD and other social work organizations have developed a number of joint projects, notably ANSWER, a political action organization representing a number of social work education and practice organizations, and the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, which serves as an advocate for social workers seeking research funding.

In response to the "too many meetings" complaint, leaders of BPD, CSWE, and SSWR have begun discussions of a joint annual meeting, one that would bring all three organizations together for a single annual conference. The three organizations would maintain their separate identities and social work educators would have one annual meeting rather than two or three. In some ways, this plan may be reminiscent of the merger of seven professional organizations that created NASW in 1956. Although measures were taken to preserve the separate identities of the predecessor organizations, these were gradually phased out and by the mid-1960s NASW was a unitary organization that attempted to represent all social workers.

This may bring us full circle, to the question that initially stimulated my interest in professional organization in the 1980s. How can the interests of a diverse profession best be represented? What are the values of segmental organization? And will unified solutions satisfy participants for long? These questions from social work's history are as relevant for today as they were in the 1980s - or in the 1950s.

Continued on the next page...

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 25, No. 3, Fall 2003

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