As of July 1, 2023, Michael S. Spencer began his service as the second Ballmer Endowed Dean of the University of Washington School of Social Work. Dean Spencer succeeds Edwina (Eddie) Uehara, who served as dean of the School of Social Work for the past 17 years and is continuing her work as a professor in the School.
“Mike is the ideal social work leader for our times,” said Uehara. “His deep expertise and insight, coupled with his profound personal and professional experience, shape his bold, timely, transformational vision for our profession and our school. Our students, staff and faculty have the greatest confidence in Dean Spencer.”
Spencer joined the School of Social Work faculty in 2018 as associate dean of academic affairs and Presidential Term Professor, as well as the director of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Oceanic Affairs at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. He has been the School’s acting dean since January 1, 2023.
Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington, cited Spencer’s experienced leadership as well as his focus on students and service. “Dean Mike Spencer’s deep and long-standing commitment to social justice and equity make him the ideal leader to advance our University’s and the School of Social Work’s public mission. He is dedicated to providing our social work students with leading-edge education and training and creating impact for people by engaging and working directly with the communities we serve.”
Spencer is the first Native Hawaiian or Kānaka Maoli dean to serve at the University of Washington. “My own life experience combined with social work expertise has led me to understand that we may need to dismantle and rebuild practices, policies, and institutions that we have traditionally promoted,” he said. “Many systems where social work is prominent have allowed systems of oppression to continue unchecked—as a result, social work does not always have a good reputation among BIPOC communities.”
Spencer is confident that the School is well positioned to meet these challenges with faculty and staff who have experience and expertise in racism, settler colonialism, health equity, child welfare, poverty, aging, and much more. “Our student body is also demanding that our School rise to its mission in our education and instruction,” said Spencer.
An emphasis on meaningful service is an essential aspect of leadership, according to the new dean. “We will achieve our service mission as we center our work toward an anti-racist/anti-oppressive social work profession,” he said. “Our community relationships and partnerships with field agencies can be strengthened and deepened as we promote an anti-oppressive research approach.” His goal is for the School to demonstrate this commitment to the communities they serve as a way toward reconciliation.
Before joining the UW, Spencer was professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He has focused his research, teaching and service on health equity, including physical and mental health, access to services, the role of racism and discrimination, and culturally-centered, community-based, participatory research. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, an MSW from the University of Texas, and a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Washington. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health’s Center on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health at the University of Michigan.
The School of Social Work is the No. 1 social work program in the world, according to the Center for World University Rankings, and No. 2 among graduate social work programs in the U.S., according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 Best Graduate Schools report.