Arizona Effort Saves Program

Social work advocates celebrated a victory in May to keep a school of social work program alive at Arizona State University’s Tucson campus.

NASW’s Arizona Chapter helped lead the effort said Chapter Executive Director Carol Stambaugh. She said the successful campaign is a perfect example of what social workers can accomplish when they work together.

The battle to save the satellite school was no easy match, however. Like most states in the past year, Arizona has been dealing with a massive budget crisis. In turn, lawmakers have been eyeing cuts at public universities to balance the books.

According to an article in the Tucson Citizen earlier this year, university leaders were proposing to save money by closing the school of social work at the campus by December. Supporters of the program protested the proposal, saying such action would cause great harm to the community.

Ann Nichols, coordinator of the Tucson component, was quoted as saying that while the savings would be minimal to the university, the impact would be huge. “We have more demand than we have openings every year,” Nichols said. “We are the only social work program in the community.” The article noted that the satellite school has graduated 76 to 78 students each of the past three years and 1,025 since 1978.

The satellite serves many Tucson area residents. Closing the campus program would prove a hardship for many as the main university is 120 miles away.

Chapter members and social work advocates joined forces in protesting the proposed closure. The NASW chapter played a large part in the effort by utilizing Capwiz, an online advocacy program that puts the strength of hundreds of associations, corporations, and nonprofits together to influence legislation and assist in mobilizing grassroots support.

“We used Capwiz to spur supporters to write the president and provosts of the university,” Stambaugh explained. “Through the program, we had 353 different activists who sent a total of 1,035 e-mails. I was proud to be a part of this.”

The effort appeared to pay off. School administrators said they received more e-mail from people protesting the closure of the social work program than any other discipline at the campus also in threat of closing, Stambaugh said, including schools of engineering, business, education and nursing.

Through the winter and into spring, however, supporters heard conflicting stories about whether the social work program could be saved, noted NASW member W. Mark Clark, who was also instrumental in leading the campaign. Throughout the year, advocates kept the pressure on university and government officials to keep the school alive, Clark noted. “We turned up the heat even more and it helped that we had people on board who have relationships with the university’s board of regents,” he said.

Finally, in May, supporters were told the governor was going to use federal stimulus funds to keep the school going and reexamine the issue in December.

Clark, who is president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Health Services, said the successful effort was a combination of people pulling together for an important cause.

Florida. In a related case, NASW Florida Chapter Executive Director James Akin said the chapter was dealing with the news of a proposal to close the Panama City campus of Florida State University, which would affect all programs in Panama City and around 50 social work students who take classes there each semester.

In May, the latest news appeared to be positive. “They will not shut the school and that’s good as the area it serves is very important,” Akin said. “Panama City is an area that is underserved as far as social work needs. So, we’re pretty happy.”