Faculty & Staff News

Graduate College of Social Work dean removal spurs backlash from UH community

alan dettlaff

Alan Dettlaff has been removed as the dean of the Graduate College of Social Work after seven years. | Courtesy of the Graduate College of Social Work

The University has removed Alan Dettlaff as the dean of the Graduate College of Social Work, sparking backlash from students, faculty and staff.

Announced Wednesday evening, Dettlaff tweeted about his removal and the “resistance” surrounding his perspective on abolitionist social work.

“I want to assure all of you that my commitment to social work, to social and racial justice, and to the work of abolition, remain as firm as ever,” Dettlaff tweeted. “Backlash is something we know happens, but we also know that the work continues.”

This removal comes as a shock to most members of the college, as they did not find out until the public did, an anonymous faculty member confirms.

“And I think some people are scared now that maybe there will be retribution if people speak out against systemic oppression as Dettlaff did,” the anonymous source said.

Dettlaff has been vocal about his devotion to abolitionist social work and racial justice.

“What we want to do as abolitionists, is we want to look at ways to address the needs of families, particularly those families who are living in poverty, and address those needs without the use of family separation,” Dettlaff said.

In a statement released to the GCSW staff, interim senior vice president for academic affairs and provost Robert McPherson thanked Dettlaff for his time as dean.

While there is no direct reason for Dettlaff removal, a few alumni had expressed their concerns with his focus on racial justice and abolition, according to Dettlaff.

“There are some dissenters in the college who have been vocal about their dissent, but they’re a small minority,” Dettlaff said. “And because there’s such a majority of voices and perspectives in the college, that want us to continue on this path forward I hope that we’re able to do that.”

The official statement also said that Dettlaff was removed to better serve the University’s priorities, something faculty members have claimed is false.

“We absolutely are doing work that supports the University’s academic and research goals,” GCSW associate professor McClain Sampson said. “Our college has a reputation for increasing research expenditures and doing truly community engaged work.”

Sampson also discussed Dettlaff’s continued work towards improving racial justice and the lack of process and conversation when removing him.

“Some of us are confused,” Sampson said. “We’re disappointed. We feel excluded from the process. If there was a problem, I wish we would have talked about it in an open setting.”

No further information about the removal of Dettlaff has been released, and McPherson has assured that he is working towards appointing a new leader.

“To see him be demoted, so unilaterally, sends a chilling message to us all,” Sampson said.

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