Diana Garland Q&A

November 23, 2004
On Sept. 24, 2004, the Board of Regents granted independent status to the Baylor School of Social Work, which was established in 1999 when the University began offering the MSW degree. Over the past five years, the School has rapidly risen to national prominence and has a No. 87 ranking in the annual U.S.News & World Report Best Graduate Schools list. Randy Fiedler spoke with social work chair Dr. Diana R. Garland about the School and its future.

BaylorNews: Tell me about your life before Baylor.

Diana Garland: I spent 30 years in Kentucky before coming to Baylor. I taught for almost 20 years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I was the dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work, the only seminary to ever have an accredited graduate social work program. When the institution there changed with a sharp turn to the right, I was dismissed as dean and that school was closed with the decision that social work education and conservative theology were not congruent with one another. That was deeply distressing to me, to see the demise of social work education in Baptist life. It was the only accredited social work graduate program anywhere in Protestant education.
Then, the opportunity came to develop graduate social work education at Baylor. It was a wonderful opportunity for me and my husband (Dr. David E. Garland, professor of Christian scriptures and associate dean at Truett Seminary) to come to Texas.

BN: So you came here with a mandate to develop a graduate program?

DG: Yes. I came in 1997 and the graduate program began in 1999.

BN: It seems there's been constant growth in the School of Social Work since you arrived. Is that a fair statement?

DG: It really is. We started in 1999 with 17 students and this fall we have 65 in the graduate program, so it really has been remarkable growth. We had five faculty members in 1997, now we have 15 full-time faculty members. Part of that growth has come because we've been really fortunate to have funding from external sources -- grants and foundations that have helped us with soft money and projects to be able to fund the addition of faculty. With that kind of growth we've been able to recruit students

BN: What is the main difference between the BSW and MSW programs?

DG: The students who complete a master's degree will often go into clinical work or supervision and administration. They become program directors and executive directors of agencies.

BN: What exactly did the Regents do recently in regard to the School of Social Work?

DG: We've been called the School of Social Work, but we've actually been a department within the College of Arts and Sciences since we were moved from the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Gerontology in 1997. So, although we've been a department, we've been named the School of Social Work. Now we will be a school as, for example, the School of Law or Truett Seminary. We are beginning the process of the search for a dean and we will move to that school status in fall 2005.

BN: Why was the name "School of Social Work" used before the actual status was conferred?

DG: We needed that to be able to communicate to our constituency that we're here. Tier 1 social work programs in other universities typically are freestanding units -- "schools" -- and we needed to be able to have that status to communicate to our constituencies that we provide graduate social work education, that we are worthy of their support, that Baylor was supportive of what we are doing and that we deserve the scholarship funds, endowment and support from foundations that were investing in research in the social work program here.

BN: How is this change to a freestanding unit going to affect the graduates of the School?

DG: There's a level of respect that is afforded to students who come from an autonomous school.

BN: Is the autonomous status going to help with recruiting faculty and getting grants?

DG: Yes it will, it absolutely will. Autonomy will enable us to have the structures that we need -- the administrative structures. We've been doing a great deal in the area of recruitment of students and the placement of students and the publicity and publishing newsletters -- all the kinds of things that an autonomous unit would do, but now we'll be able to have some of the structures that we need to be able to make those things happen.

BN: Is Baylor's School of Social Work different than schools of social work at secular universities in the way that it integrates faith and practice?

DG: I think that probably distinguishes us more than anything else. Here we are, 100 miles to the north and 100 miles to the south of two of the largest social work programs in the country. When we began to develop this program, we asked, "What makes us unique?," and what makes us unique is the integration of religious faith and ethical social work practice. Most of our research projects, in fact, relate to religion and spirituality in social work practice. That's what has made us attractive to foundations that have awarded us the grants to do what we are doing. It's an interesting time because of the level of national interest in issues of spirituality and religion. In the profession of social work we are the only Protestant school, with the exception of one Methodist school in upstate New York, that is focusing on religion and faith in social work practice. So, yes, that makes us unique.
Forty percent of our graduate students come to us from outside of Texas. We have a national reputation which is rather remarkable considering we're only five years old. We're drawing students from all over the country because of that focus -- students who are interested in missions and ministry and work with congregations and religiously affiliated organizations. Many of our students want to work in non-sectarian settings, but they want to work in those settings because they want to work with the whole person, and that includes the spiritual dimension as well as the physical, psychological and interpersonal dimensions.

BN: So, on a practical level, will the way our students are trained affect how they react with clients and others because they integrate spirituality in what they do?

DG: Yes, and that happens in two ways. Many of our students come here because they are themselves people of faith and have a sense of calling to this work. We think it's important that the students understand their own sense of calling and their own sense of spirituality, and understand that they don't use that in a way that misunderstands their client. In fact, they need to take the time to be vigorously self-reflective so that they are careful in understanding also who their clients are. We work with clients when they're in crisis. By definition, they're questioning meaning and purpose in life, and those are spiritual questions. So it's very important that social workers who are working with clients in crisis are sensitive to those issues and are not coming in with heavy feet about their own sense of religion and spirituality -- that they're sensitive to who the client is. Those are the kinds of issues we think students need some time in their educational program to be reflective about. Unfortunately, if students are in a program that doesn't address those issues, they may not be able to address those carefully with clients. Secondly, some students want to work in an overtly religious setting. They want to work in or with congregations, or in a religious organization.

BN: In general, what are the most popular types of jobs and work environments our students go to once they graduate?

DG: Our students will work with the whole life spectrum, from welfare to gerontological settings. They work with children and families in adoption, in foster care, in prevention programs that keep families together that otherwise might be at risk of children being removed from home for a variety of reasons. They work in child and family services in marriage and family counseling and therapy. They work in gerontology and hospice. They work at the policy level. We have two students that will be going to Washington, D.C. this spring as part of a field internship -- one working with policy issues for senior adults. We have students who will be going overseas and working with community development.

BN: When students come here, do they usually know where they want to go and seek very specialized training in that area, or do they look for more of a broad education that would allow them to do a number of different things?

DG: Some of our students come knowing exactly what they want to do and others come wanting to do everything. The wonderful thing about social work education is that it is a broad education that prepares students to do a variety of things, from direct clinical practice in a counseling setting all the way to policy analysis and administration. Many social workers end up doing all of the above throughout their career. So we provide the theory and skill development so that they can continue to develop along the way.

BN: What does our student body in social work look like? I get the impression that the old stereotype years ago was that it was almost all women who were involved in social work. Is that the case now?

DG: Women are still the majority in our student body. That is not necessarily true in other universities, and we are hoping that we will continue to balance our program with men and women. We have added more men in our program because we have a third of our graduate students who are dual-degree students with Truett Seminary, and many of those students are men.

BN: You also serve as director of Baylor's Center for Family and Community Ministries. What is that organization and what does it do?

DG: The Center for Family and Community Ministries is a center of research and program development that serves religiously-affiliated agencies and congregations working with children and families. We provide resources for congregations and agencies. We do conferences. We publish an audio magazine, which is a CD or cassette tape that is provided most often to busy church leaders so they can throw it in their car and listen to while they're running about town. We keep subscribers abreast of what's going on nationally in the area of family ministry.
We do a survey in congregations to identify needs and strengths in congregational life and families. We analyze the survey findings here and then provide congregational leaders with an assessment of the strengths and needs of that congregation. Then we provide congregational leaders with consultation to help them in planning what they can be doing to strengthen families in their congregation. That also provides us with data so that we can do ongoing research about what is going on in family life in congregations today. It's a win-win. It helps us with research and it helps congregations in the practical ministry that they're doing with families.

BN: We've read in the news the past few years about the School of Social Work getting a number of large research grants. What are those designed to do?

DG: The largest grant came from Pew Charitable Trust, which is a $2 million grant. We are studying faith-based organizations. What can we learn from them, or what can we help them learn about themselves? We have a grant right now from the Annie B. Casey Foundation about faith-based child welfare services. What kinds of services do religiously affiliated organizations like Methodist Children's Home here in Waco or Presbyterian Children's Home provide? The fact is, nobody has studied religiously affiliated child welfare organizations even though they're the largest provider outside of public child welfare -- nobody has studied them.

BN: Why is that?

DG: There's never been a Christian university with a social work program that's had a research agenda. So, here we have ourselves this little five-year-old school that has a research agenda, and we're saying, "If we don't do the research, who will?" So we're stepping into some of those gaps in research and trying to provide to the social service providers who need to know what's going on in this arena of social services.

BN: I know you probably have a lot of goals in mind for the School in the next five or 10 years. Would you care to share some of those?

DG: We are concerned that we remain in a place that we need to be, doing the research that will guide in very practical ways the social services of the religiously-affiliated agencies. We want to make a difference. We want to help these agencies and congregations be more effective in serving children and families and aging adults. We're not interested in doing research for the sake of doing research. We're interested in doing research that makes a difference. We want to educate students who will broaden our ability to do that research, so we want to teach our students not to just be great practitioners but to be practitioners who will do research in the field and will write about what they are doing and broaden the theory and research base of the profession. So, we have a rigorous graduate program that includes research. Not many graduate social work programs include research -- ours does. Our students are all doing research projects. We're serious about turning out a student body that will continue to publish as a part of their practice. We want to grow in a slow-growth mode so that we continue to have a student body where no graduate student can hide, but that all of our students are known by our faculty and receive individualized attention. We don't want to be a student body of 400 as some graduate social work programs are. We want our students to feel like they've been in a program where they are an active part of shaping the work that's done in this place.

BN: As the School continues to grow, has there been any preliminary talk about getting your own building on campus?

DG: We've got to do something. We have only one classroom here in the parking garage (Speight Plaza), but other departments have been very gracious to let us borrow their classrooms. It helped when the Baylor Sciences Building came on line because that opened up some space in other places on campus. But yes, we are to capacity in our current space and we're continuing to grow so that certainly will be, in my estimation, the first agenda of our new dean.

BN: What's the thing you enjoy best about your job of leading the School right now?

DG: This is a wonderful community. We are a group of colleagues who love one another, who work collegially with one another. All of our projects are shared. We have no prima donnas here. We work together and we have communicated that to our students. It's a place where I look forward to coming to work every day, and I'm not sure that's true of very many places. So I'm thankful to be here.

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