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History of the Faculty

Established in 1914, the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto is Canada’s oldest school of social work. This also makes it one of the oldest in North America. At the time of the founding of this Faculty, social work was an emerging profession. Social problems were widespread and the nation’s “charity organization movement” was growing at an unprecedented rate. These relief practices, while well-intentioned, were poorly organized, inefficient, and lacked central administration. Advancements in social work training were clearly needed. Shortly after the University of Toronto established the first school of social work (later re-named the Faculty of Social Work), others began to spring up across the country. The school at the University of Toronto was joined in 1918 by the McGill school, in 1928 by the University of British Columbia’s school, and in the early 1940s by centres of training at the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University.

In the early 1950s, the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto provided leadership in responding to the critical need for advanced graduate education in social work by inaugurating a Doctor of Social Work program. Until the 1980s, the University of Toronto was the only Canadian school producing social work doctoral graduates. Consequently, graduates of our doctoral program were a primary source of junior faculty members for the new social work departments that were to proliferate across the country during a remarkable thirty-year period of growth in this field following World War II.

In these post-war years, the Faculty was instrumental in raising the profile of social work as a “legitimate” profession, as compared to other disciplines such as medicine and law. Faculty members strove to impress upon their non-social work colleagues the importance of social work research and scholarship in the field of social sciences.

Change was most keenly felt in the sixties, when widespread student radicalism rocked campuses across Canada and the United States. The Faculty of Social Work, like other schools of social work throughout North America, Europe, and beyond, was being challenged with respect to its perceived conservative, parochial, and authoritarian conventions. Entire Faculty meetings were devoted to the subject of faculty-student relationships and student involvement in curriculum development. During this period of transformation, students also became actively involved in Faculty governance and policy development. Student advocacy and activism remains a hallmark of our programs to this day.

The seventies and eighties witnessed the beginning of a society-wide movement towards embracing cultural pluralism. By the end of the sixties, about ten percent of the M.S.W. student population had received undergraduate degrees in countries other than Canada. At the Faculty of Social Work, teaching and research began to reflect populations and subjects that had traditionally been excluded, such as members of visible minority communities, women, persons with disabilities, single parent households, and working mothers. New partnerships were forged with agencies and practitioners in the field. These relationships enhanced the field education experience of our students and opened up new opportunities for joint research undertakings, as well as provided us with valuable input regarding program offerings. These were critical years of curriculum development at the Faculty and reflected major developments in social work education, both domestically and abroad. Notably, at a time when BSW’s were first being introduced in Canada, the Faculty of Social Work made the decision to remain focused on our M.S.W. and DSW (later to become Ph.D.) programs, while offering an entry route for BSW grads. This latter development was a major factor in attracting students from across Canada and beyond. Indeed, the Faculty experienced a major spurt of growth in the student body during this time.

The year 1989 marked the beginning of a period of significant growth for the Faculty of Social Work. Over the next several years, the Faculty flourished as the University injected new resources into its programs. During the second half of the ‘90’s, however, post-secondary education became a primary target of government cutbacks. In 1995, the University of Toronto embarked upon a campus-wide planning process to assist academic divisions in working through these challenging times.

The Faculty of Social Work identified the following areas as its top priorities during this planning phase:  Increased support for high quality scholarship and research of Faculty and students;  Expansion of the doctoral program and refinement of the master’s program;  Further advancement of the anti-racism, multiculturalism, and native issues (AMNI) initiatives of the Faculty;  Enhancement of teaching and learning effectiveness;  Further promotion of the linkage between scholarship, research, and teaching of the faculty;  Fostering of interdisciplinary partnerships;  Expansion of the Faculty’s fundraising activities.

Since 1995, the Faculty has demonstrated significant progress in achieving these goals. A comprehensive self study, including an external review, was undertaken in 1999 and highlighted the Faculty’s accomplishments. As part of this review process, a survey was conducted to obtain comparative data from the top ten Schools of Social Work in the United States as identified by the U.S. News and Work Report (1998). Overall, this comparative analysis provided clear evidence that our performance ranks very well with that of the top ranked schools in the United States.

The success of this earlier planning phase has provided a solid foundation for the next cycle of the University-wide strategic planning. The Faculty’s new comprehensive academic plan has as its integrative theme and primary focus, Strengthening the Core and Responding to Diversity to Achieve Excellence.

Through all of these decades of change, the Faculty of Social Work has been transformed in many new and exciting ways. Throughout its history, however, it has never wavered from its singular commitment to the pursuit of excellence in social work education. We are extremely proud of all of our faculty and graduates who have played important roles in forging a strong Canadian social work identity, through their important contributions to social work research, scholarship and professional practice.


Faculty of Social Work Millennium Report, 2001.
Faculty of Social Work Academic Plan, 1999.
U.S. News and World Report, 1998.
A History of the University of Toronto School of Social Work, Doctoral Thesis, John Graham, 1996.