Lorraine Midanik, retiring dean of social welfare, looks back on her career

This summer, Lorraine Midanik, dean of the School of Social Welfare since 2007, will retire from her post after 27 years on the UC Berkeley faculty. As she packs up her office and bids adieu to her many students and colleagues at Haviland Hall, Midanik is reflecting on her career.

How did your career at the School of Social Welfare start out?

Lorraine Midanik, dean of social welfare, will retire this summer

I discovered my passion for research in alcohol epidemiology and health and social policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. After finishing my doctorate there in 1979, I was a post-doctoral fellow for one year at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Social Research Group, now called the Alcohol Research Group.

By 1984, while I was a health evaluation analyst at Kaiser Permanente, I taught a doctoral course in research design at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare and quickly realized that I loved teaching such a high caliber of students – particularly in an area in which I had quite a bit of expertise. Harry Specht, who was then the dean, told me about a new assistant professorship in health services, and I applied. Accepting that position was one of the best career decisions I have ever made. I developed an appreciation for the many ways to understand social problems and was fortunate to continue my research collaborations on several projects with Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research and the Alcohol Research Group.

What are your proudest achievements?

Building a strong communications and development team that placed a greater focus on our alumni and their contributions to the School and to the community and has raised the School of Social Welfare’s visibility locally, nationally and internationally. As part of this effort, our endowments have almost doubled, providing us two endowed chairs, a research center and several graduate fellowships, as well as a lecture series on research methodology.

I am also very proud of the results of a strategic planning process we launched last year to develop objectives for the next five years. As part of our identified goal to enhance a thriving intellectual community, we have secured a Ford Foundation grant to develop faculty and student research and exchanges with Beijing Normal University in China as well as reconstituted the Intercambio project to provide a summer program for our master’s students in Mexico.

Finally, I am proud of the enthusiastic and forward-thinking staff and faculty we have hired, including two new assistant professors and a new field work consultant who will be great additions to the School in the fall.

How do graduates of the School of Social Welfare make a difference?

Our master’s students provide valuable services to the community. For example, for the last five years, a large group of Social Welfare master’s students has held an annual Social Justice Symposium to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. This symposium attracts a wide venue of participants, including community leaders, current and past students, faculty and other interested community groups. This one-day event focuses on developing skills that ensure that social justice values are incorporated into social work practice. Moreover, each cohort of students dedicates itself to raising enough funds to allow the successive class to continue this tradition.

Meanwhile, many of our undergraduate students go on to public service positions in social work, education and beyond.  I personally have had the honor to chair several undergraduate honors theses. I still hear from an alumnus, now a physician, who attributes his success as a doctor to the skills he learned in our undergraduate program.

Additionally, our doctoral graduates have gone on to become leaders as faculty and deans of several of the prominent schools of social work in the U.S. and internationally.

What made you decide it was time to retire?

During my tenure as dean, the School of Social Welfare has accomplished a great deal in its instructional programs, research and fundraising.  All of this has happened during the worst financial crisis in recent history. At this point, I felt it was time to step down and let someone else continue to move the School forward – with new, younger faculty and our new strategic objectives.

I decided to retire from UC Berkeley mainly because I want to pursue my own personal interests. Being dean is wonderful, but it does take me away from focusing on my own research and writing. After 27 years, I felt it was the right time. I want to spend more time with my family who, while they don’t say it, really haven’t had as much time with me during my years as dean.

What will you miss the most, and what won’t you miss?

I probably will miss most my ongoing interaction with staff.  I have been so fortunate to have a staff that is deeply committed to the School’s mission. I will also miss the students. I have been lucky to be able to teach one class during my deanship as well as to work with wonderful students who continually make me realize the greatness of this School. I will also miss the collegiality of my fellow deans on campus, particularly the six other women deans. We make it a point to have a women dean’s lunch once a month where we give each other an enormous amount of support and practical advice. I will also miss working with higher administration who is leading the university through very difficult times.

I will not miss the stress that is very much part of any administrative job at this time.  There are so many things that need to be accomplished by deans these days, and sometimes it is easy to forget all the things that deans do – as opposed to what needs to be done.

What’s next for you?

My immediate plan this summer is to take some time to breathe and spend more time with my family.  We are planning a few brief family vacations.  I also hope to be able to spend more time conducting research and writing papers, and I’m looking forward to developing new interests that help me discover where my passions lie. I suspect it will be in some form of public service in the community.