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Summer 1998
Social Evolution

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From a Quonset hut to the Watts riots to the Computer Age: 40 years inside Social Welfare

By Harry Kitano,
Illustration by Martha Crawford

I arrived at UCLA in 1958, a newly minted assistant professor, to find the then-School of Social Welfare housed in a Quonset hut of uncertain age near Kinsey Hall. Only 10 years old, the program had seven full-time faculty, less than 50 masterís students (all of whom had to pass a physical exam prior to registration) and faced questions about whether a research university should be involved in professional degree programs. In fact, more than 80 percent of social workers in the field did not have a masterís degree. On the upside, tuition for California residents was free. And so was the plentiful parking.

Things change. The Department of Social Welfare is now housed in the School of Public Policy and Social Research. It has18 full-time faculty, 268 masterís and doctoral students and an international reputation in social gerontology, child welfare and mental health, as well as for policy research on families, long-term care, welfare reform and social service delivery systems. Gone for good are any questions about the role of teaching social welfare in the university. So too, alas, is the free parking -- though no relationship between the two phenomena has been demonstrated.

But the changes that have overtaken social work education, research and practice extend far beyond the numbers. Then, as now, social workers dealt with a wide variety of societal problems -- the causes, consequences and interventions needed to address everything from poverty, crime and mental illness to child abuse, terminal illness and disability. But what has changed radically is the teaching and research emphasis.


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