Q&A: Ira C. Colby on stepping down as Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work
After 15 years of dedication and significant progressive change, Ira C. Colby has stepped down from his position as Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work. The 37-year veteran of social work education has been instrumental in the growth and success of the college; such improvements include an increase in enrollment by 40 percent during his tenure. Under his watch, the college has recruited many distinguished faculty, created dual degree programs in business, law and public health and has been influential in producing international programs that involve building social work education agendas in other countries. The Daily Cougar recently spoke with Colby about his decision to leave the GCSW.
The Daily Cougar: This is a big step in your career and life. Why have you decided to step down as dean?
Ira C. Colby: The College has grown in so many ways, and is in a very good place for a new leader to come aboard. The so-called life expectancy of a social work dean is around 4-5 years, so 15 years as Dean is a long time. I have about 29 years in educational administration (e.g., dean, director, chair) in a career that started in 1975. All in all I knew this was the time to step aside.
TDC: Over the course of your 15-year long tenure the college has grown in many ways. In what ways are you most proud?
IC: There are so many points of pride, but let me give you five. The faculty, in their work to craft a unique graduate program — a one of its kind — was amazing. The GCSW alumni day in and day out work with the most vulnerable in our community and truly are helping to change people’s lives. The College’s David Underwood Non-Profit Leadership Alliance offers undergraduates an opportunity to gain significant experience in a nationally recognized/modeled certificate program. The support for student scholarships that the GCSW receives from the broader community is incredibly important; in a similar vein, the GCSW was the first graduate social work program nationwide to establish a bilingual scholarship program that today is replicated in every graduate social work program in Texas. And finally, the GCSW’s International Program, that includes student (and) faculty exchanges, is important in our work.
TDC: What was the most memorable experience you had during your time as dean?
IC: Seeing so many individuals who come to the College to realize their dream to get a graduate social work degree, and then move into a professional career. For me, there is nothing more rewarding.
TDC: What are your hopes for the future of the college?
IC: The GCSW is in a good place but nothing like what its future can be. There is an extraordinary faculty and staff who are committed to the College’s mission. Yes, we are a small college but excellence comes in many shapes and sizes. Today, the GCSW is nationally ranked (No. 37 out of 220+ programs). There is no reason why the GCSW should not be in the very elite top 20 programs nationally.
TDC: Any advice for the future dean of the college?
IC: Have fun. Seriously, the next dean will not need any advice from me.
TDC: The motto of GSW is “be the change you want to see in the world.” What does this mean to you, and what do you hope students will take away from it?
IC: As global citizens we have a responsibility to engage with our communities. Each of us works with others; how that is defined is up to the individual.
Dr. Paul Raffoul has been appointed interim dean for the college until a new, permanent choice is made. Raffoul joined GCSW in 1981 and has been Associate Dean for Administration and Information Technology since 1999.
Colby is set to return to UH in January of 2015 as a faculty member. Colby said he will spend the fall finishing a few books he is working on and plans to be more active with the social services community concerning homeless youth, more specifically “throw-away teens,” when he returns in the spring.