March 16, 2023

Michael S. Spencer has been appointed Ballmer Endowed Dean of the University of Washington School of Social Work. His appointment, subject to approval by the UW Board of Regents, begins July 1, 2023. He will succeed Edwina (Eddie) Uehara, who has served as dean of the School of Social Work for the past 17 years.  

In making the announcement, Mark A. Richards, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Washington, cited Spencer’s ongoing commitment to the School’s critical and growing role in supporting justice and equity to achieve lasting and meaningful change. “UW President Ana Mari Cauce and I are grateful to Dean Uehara for her outstanding leadership, and we are confident that Dr. Spencer will propel this work forward in a collaborative and thoughtful manner,” said Richards. “We look forward to his leadership and vision, especially in the areas of inclusion and social justice.” 

Spencer joined the School of Social Work faculty in 2018 where he was associate dean of academic affairs and Presidential Term Professor as well as the director of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Oceania Affairs at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, a School-supported research center. He has been the School’s acting dean since January 1, 2023.  

“I am extremely grateful for the confidence and support from Provost Richards and President Cauce, and the faculty and staff at the University of Washington School of Social Work,” said Spencer. “I will work tirelessly to build upon the legacy of Dean Uehara and to promote the values of social justice and anti-oppressive social work practice through innovation and impact.” 

Spencer is the first Native Hawaiian or Kānaka Maoli dean to serve at the University of Washington. 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. 

Before joining the UW, Spencer was professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. 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. 

“I am delighted that Mike Spencer will be our next dean,” said Uehara. “His lifelong commitment to social justice and equity is evident through his research, teaching and community engagement. I know he will bring visionary leadership, collaborative focus and a spirit of innovation as he works to advance the School, the UW and the profession. I am excited for him and for the School.”   

The School of Social Work has become an innovative leader in advancing social and economic justice and enhancing quality of life through education, research and community engagement under the leadership of Uehara. She was the first person of color to serve as dean of the School and the University of Washington’s first Asian American female dean. In 2011, she became the inaugural holder of the Ballmer Endowed Deanship in Social Work, the first endowed deanship in social work at a U.S. public university.  

Currently on a leave of absence, Uehara will return to the School on April 1 and resume leadership as dean from April 1 – June 30 when her term officially ends. She will then rejoin the faculty to pursue her research, teaching and leadership in the field of behavioral health, and also resume leadership of the School’s behavioral health workforce initiatives. 

The School of Social Work has risen steadily in national and global rankings during Uehara’s long tenure to become 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—the highest ranking the School has ever obtained under this ranking system.