University of Houston removes dean focused on racial disparities, LGBTQ+ outcomes and immigrant experiences in social system

Dettlaff is a full professor with tenure, and he confirmed that he plans to continue his work at University of Houston for now. 

University of Houston
Alan Dettlaff has been removed as Dean of Graduate College of Social Work.

A University of Houston academic has been removed as dean of the Graduate College of Social Work.

Alan Dettlaff served in the position for seven years. His research examined racial disparities and immigrant experiences in the welfare system, as well as how to improve the social safety net for LGBTQ youth.

The GCSW has long focused on racial justice. According to Dettlaff, conversations about an "abolitionist" framework of social work reignited in earnest after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

"The abolitionist framework looks at responding to societal problems — such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment — by addressing those material needs on a societal level," he explained. "Rather than looking at them as issues of individual pathology that blame parents because they’re poor, and then take their children away from them."

Robert H. McPherson made the decision to remove Dettlaff. He's Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.

"I initiated the change in leadership to better align the (Graduate College of Social Work) with the university's academic priorities," McPherson wrote to the school's staff and faculty. "Which include growing research expenditures and elevating the learning experience for all students as we work to realize our vision of becoming a Top 50 public university."

The message said Dettlaff will "continue his own important scholarly work, which focuses on racial disparities, improving outcomes for LGBTQ youth and addressing the unique needs of immigrant families."

Dettlaff is a full professor with tenure, and he confirmed that he plans to continue his work at University of Houston for now.

"I was disappointed because I felt that the school was on a really positive forward trajectory," he said. "This is something that the majority of our students, the majority of our faculty have appreciated — the bold stances that we’ve taken as a college. I know that many of our students come to the GCSW specifically because of our focus on abolitionist practice. And I was worried and concerned that will stop, and I still have that concern."

Disclosure: Houston Public Media is licensed by the University of Houston. The university does not play a role in Houston Public Media’s editorial decisions. Read our statement of ethics and standards here.

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Dominic Anthony Walsh

Education & Families Reporter

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers education & families for Houston Public Media's enterprise team. His work examines the institutions and policies affecting millions of students and families across Texas, with a focus on Houston — home to the largest school district in the state. He comes to the Bayou City after...

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