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David M. Austin

NASW Social Work Pioneer® David M. Austin Dies

1923-2008

Dr. David M. Austin, a pioneer in the field of social work education and a former faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin, died May 29 in Berea, Ky, following his battle with cancer. He was 84.

Austin was among the first social work students supported through the GI Bill following World War II. In 1963, he directed a planning team in Cleveland, which prepared the first comprehensive community-based action proposal funded under President Kennedy’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime. The program became known as Community Action for Youth.

In addition to the university, Austin taught social work at Western Reserve University, Smith College, Boston University, Brandeis University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Boston College, and Rockefeller College, State University of New York at Albany.

Austin joined the university’s School of Social Work in 1973 and held the Bert Kruger Smith Centennial Professorship. During his 24 years at the university, he served as acting dean of the School of Social Work (1991-93) and was director of the school’s Center for Social Work Research from 1974-79. He received numerous teaching awards including UT-Austin’s Lora Lee Pederson Teaching Excellence Award and University Outstanding Graduate Teach ing Award and was honored nationally for his research, particularly in the area of human service management. His scholarship, especially his 1988 book, “The Political Economy of Human Service Programs,” has provided the seminal statement on the distinguishing characteristics of human service organizations.

From 1988 to 1991, Austin served as chairman of the National Institute of Mental Health Task Force on Social Work Research, which produced an extensive report with far-reaching recommendations for changes in the organization of research within the profession of social work.

The report remains one of the most important and long-lasting projects in professional social work, according to Dr. Barbara W. White, dean of the university School of Social Work. It was this initiative, she said, that led the National Institute on Drug Abuse to establish the research grant program that has supported research activities of many faculty in social work programs around the country, among them UT-Austin.

“In his brilliant career, David has left a magnificent legacy in the students whom he mentored, taught and inspired,” said White. “He was a leading scholar in the field of social work and his profound contributions have been recognized through numerous awards.

“It was David’s work, in fact, that led to the strengthening of the doctoral program and research center at the university School of Social Work.”

The National Association of Social Workers named Austin a Social Work Pioneer® in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Zuria Farmer Austin, and two sons, Clayton Austin and Paul Austin, a daughter, Dr. Judith Austin, and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service to be held on The University of Texas at Austin campus later this summer or early in the fall is being planned.

Click here to view David’s NASW Social Work Pioneer® Profile.

To leave a tribute to David, please click on the comments link below.

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  1. David Austin will be remembered for many contributions to the social work profession. Perhaps the one that will be viewed as most significant was his leadership of the NIMH supported Task Force on Social Work Research that culminated in the declaration in 1991 that there was a “a crisis in the current development of research resources in social work… This has serious consequences for individuals using social work services, for professional practitioners, for the credibility of the profession, and for the American society.” This crisis caught the attention of the profession and stimulated many actions, including the creation of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (IASWR) and an expanded effort to produce high quality research to build the knowledge base for social work practice. His determination and commitment to the profession and its future will be remembered. To see a copy of the Task Force report, visit http://www.iaswresearch.org and click on Publications.

  2. David Austin was a real social work statesman who gave freely of his time and wisdom.

  3. I was extremely fortunate to have been mentored by David Austin when I became the executive director of NASW/Texas. Many lunches gave me the opportunity to learn from the master. I will never forget him telling me that I was in a “moderately powerful position to effect change.” I took that seriously and have tried to go forward. What a contribution he made to the profession.

  4. David Austin was a bright and kind man with a love of history, policy, and the social work profession. He spoke at the 30th Anniversary of the PhD program at The University of Texas at Austin–and I was struck at his enthusiasm in reviewing events throughout the program’s history. He was like that with everything. Recently I came across an old timeline that I had completed for one of his doctoral classes–and it was as informative and revealing now as it was when I wrote it in 1976. David provided lots of feedback, and there was no question he paid attention to students and their work. I and many others will miss seeing David here in Austin and hearing that wonderful laugh.

  5. David was a visionary leader. He understood the challenges of our profession and was a great mentor of women. He did much to advance the social work field and to promote scholarship.

  6. I had the great fortune to serve with David on the NIMH Social Work Research Task Force. What is perhaps less understood in the effort and accomplishments of the Task Force is the consummate community organizing skill David Austin brought to the undertaking. Most Task Forces issue a report: this Task Force started a movement. For the opportunity to watch and learn from this CO master I am forever indebted to David. Ron Feldman once introduced David at a meeting by noting that of no individual could the phrase be better said: “He was a scholar and a gentleman.” He was all that and more.

  7. This crisis caught the attention of the profession and stimulated many actions,including the creation of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research and an expanded effort to produce high quality research to build the knowledge base for social work practice.His determination and commitment to the profession and its future will be remembered.

  8. Dave Austin was my thesis advisor at Brandeis in the mid 1970’s. He was a caring, bright and delightful advisor who shepherded me through that onerous process. My thesis was later published as a book – largely due to his efforts to clarify my jumbled thoughts. To me, he has always provided a model for teaching, and his death will not diminish his influence in those of us who were his students.

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