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School of Social Work Dean to Retire

Gail Steketee, expert on hoarding, lifted school’s ranking

Head shot of Gail Steketee

Gail Steketee will leave the School of Social Work deanship at the end of the academic year or when her successor is chosen. Photo by Vernon Doucette

As dean of the School of Social Work, Gail Steketee greatly expanded teaching and research, but to the outside world, she’s probably best known as an expert on hoarding, having been interviewed many times about her book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. Yet her own schedule has been so cluttered with work that she’s never walked Boston’s Freedom Trail.

She plans to make time for that landmark now: Steketee has announced her retirement from the deanship and BU. She’ll stay on either until the end of the academic year or until her successor is selected.

“This feels like a perfect time to step down because of the great position the school is in,” she says. “I am very proud of the school and the accomplishments of the faculty and staff, as well as the input from our smart students and our dedicated alumni. These are great people who do great things to make an impact for those who need our profession the most.”

Steketee has led the school since becoming interim dean in 2005, and three years later she assumed the position permanently. Under her deanship, SSW rose from 22nd to 12th in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of social work schools, and raised $22 million as part of the Campaign for BU.

The fundraising endowed more scholarships for students and enabled the creation of the Center for Innovation in Social Work and Health, which seeks to improve health care nationally and globally by combining medical and social work insights. The idea, Steketee said in announcing the center two years ago, is that preventing illness often depends on understanding environmental influences like family and neighborhood situations on a person’s health.

“Social workers understand the large picture of people’s lives—what drags down people’s health and what improves it,” she said then. “We know from the research data that a focus on medical care alone, no matter how cost-conscious, does not lead to healthier or happier lives for people as a whole.”

Among the accomplishments as dean she is most proud of, Steketee says, is the start four years ago of SSW’s online master’s program in social work, one of the nation’s first. With instruction on campus, online, and at three satellite sites, she says, “we are now working to create synergies across our formats so students can move reasonably flexibly across them, to take the courses and specializations they want and need.”

Steketee appointed SSW’s first-ever associate dean for research and secured the school’s reaccreditation by the Council on Social Work Education, “a rigorous process and notable distinction,” Jean Morrison, provost and chief academic officer, said in announcing the dean’s decision.

“Dean Steketee has provided exemplary leadership at SSW,” Morrison said. “She has overseen significant development within the school, both in the caliber of faculty and academic programs and in the elevation of its profile as a national destination for social work practice, research, and training.”

Steketee says she intends to remain active in professional organizations. She assumes the presidency of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies this month. She was also recently elected to the three-year vice presidency of the American Academy for Social Work and Social Welfare.

“Beyond that,” she says, “I hope to have enough downtime to pursue several pastimes and enjoy a bit of travel with my husband,” including the Freedom Trail. “I’m looking forward to a short trip each month to see and do something fun and interesting.”

According to the provost, a search committee will be formed to conduct a national search for a new dean, with a target date of making recommendations next May.

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

3 Comments on School of Social Work Dean to Retire

  • Itai Vardi on 11.29.2016 at 1:38 pm

    Speaking of hoarding to oneself, BU’s adjuncts will not forget Dean Steketee’s active opposition to their unionization.

  • Greg Wright on 11.30.2016 at 9:23 am

    Congratulations on a career well done. Thank you for helping expand knowledge of hoarding. The National Association of Social Workers also appreciates your helping us address this issue through our website SocialWorkersSpeak.org.

    Enjoy your retirement. We are sure you will continue to be engaged with the profession in some way.

    Greg Wright
    NASW Public Relations Manager

  • Angelo McClain on 11.30.2016 at 11:17 am

    Congratulations on your wonderful career. Thank you for your leadership. Your accomplishments have not only made BU SSW stronger but the broader social work community has benefited from your innovations–the impact of your contributions will be felt for years to come.

    Angelo McClain

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