Indiana University School of Social Work Dean Emeritus Sheldon Siegel dies

Dean Emeritus of the Indiana University School of Social Work Sheldon Siegel had a lifelong passion for social justice, love for his family and compassion for older people whom he worked tirelessly to help improve their lives.

Dean Sheldon SeigalDr. Siegel served as Dean of the School of Social Work from 1985 to 1994 and as Interim Dean from 1999 to 2000. He expand the School’s role in the community, saw a long-sought after hope of creating the state’s only social work doctoral program realized, and pushed for greater diversity on the IUPUI campus.

Dr. Siegel died Aug. 26 at the age of 83.

Before arriving at IU, Dr. Siegel had spent six years as the Director of the University of Cincinnati School of Social Work and before that served as an Associate Professor and Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Upon his arrival in Indianapolis, Dr. Siegel established an aggressive agenda to expand and enhance the School’s academic stature and its impact on the lives of struggling Hoosiers. His agenda included seeing the School’s long-held hopes for a doctoral program fulfilled; developing community-based projects; providing continued support for Council of International Programs (CIP); further development of statewide MSW and BSW program; to expand the research mission of the School and to support the reactivation of the School’s Alumni Association.

By the late 1970s, the School realized it needed a doctoral program if it wanted to be considered one of the country’s best social work programs. The Indiana Commission on Higher Education voted against the program’s approval in the early 1980s because it wanted the School to expand the School’s MSW programs across the state as a priority. In the late 1980s, Dr. Siegel reconvened a group of faculty to consider submitting a new doctoral program proposal. While Dr. Gerald Powers was assigned to shepherd the proposal through the necessary university steps, Dr. Siegel met regularly with the higher education commission staff person assigned to review the proposal. Dr. Siegel worked to convince the Commission staff that doctoral program would enhance the content of the School’s BSW and MSW education. “By the time of the scheduled Commission meeting we thought we had all our ducks in order,” Dr. Siegel wrote in 2011. “As we were assembling for the Commission meeting, the staff member called me aside and said that the staff had met the previous evening and decided not to support the proposal. I shard this “gunshot” with Jerry (Powers), Chancellor (Gerald) Bepko and Executive Vice Chancellor (William) Plater and each of us began in the brief time to lobby members of the Commission. During the hearing, the School’s administrators sat with “our hearts in our mouths,” awaiting the outcome, Dean Siegel said. Then as Dr. Siegel recalled an African-American member of the Commission “said in a few words what our lengthy explanations had failed to accomplish.” The School’s proposal was approved. The first cohort of PhD students began coursework in 1994.

A year after arriving at IU, Dean Siegel began discussions with the Indianapolis Foundation to develop community-based programs. The foundation told the School that it did not provide scholarship support, but it was interested in the development of a program to provide social services to residents of public housing. The School submitted a proposal to establish a model social services program for public housing residents and demonstrate the utility of such service to the public housing administration. Funding by the Indianapolis Foundation supported a faculty field instructor and student interns. The project lasted about five years.

The School had provided staff development services on a contractual basis to the then Department of Welfare since the early 1980s. Dr. Siegel noted the project provided basic practice orientation to new child welfare staff, a more advanced curriculum to experienced staff and a program for supervisors. That experience provided the basis for a proposal to the federal Children’s Bureau to develop an action research project to evaluate failed foster care placements and identify the actions taken to increase the probability of success. This project and the School’s activities in child welfare supported a lobbying effort of the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation establishing a Commission on Abused and Neglected Children to be led by a School of Social Work faculty member in 1992-1993. Then Governor Evan Bayh appointed Dean Siegel to chair the commission. Apart from recommendations to the state for increased numbers of caseworkers, better education, improved emergency room evaluation and care, it was recommended that an organization be formed to monitor the implementation of the recommendations. The Children’s Coalition was formed to do that.

The Council on International Programs also flourished in the early 1990s. Dean Siegel served as President of the CIP from 1991 to 1995. For several years the School shared with the Center on Philanthropy a faculty from Serbia who taught an elective course in International Social Services. This course was well received, articulated well with the participation of CIP participants, and furthered substantive content on international social work. The program is credited with bringing hundreds of human service professionals from more than 80 countries to the IUPUI campus.

His colleagues at the School paint a picture of a man deeply committed to social justice. “Sheldon demonstrated his commitment to social and economic justice,” said Dr. Lorraine Blackman, an Associate Professor of Social Work. “I for one am eternally grateful tohim and Natalie. Their hospitality across these 20 years has sustained me.”

“Thinking of Sheldon always brought a smile,” said Marion Wagner, the former director of the School’s MSW program. “He was such a nice man and an excellent colleague. When I was new to academic administration – and to academia in general – he was a wonderful guide to the arcane protocols and culture of this strange, new world. He helped me understand that some behaviors were due to roles, not just personality; learning I still use.  He also served as a guide to some of the material I used in my dissertation, and he provided great support for my dissertation process.

Following a CIP social gathering, I found a bottle of sherry. Not wanting to leave it out in a common space, I put it in my office.  (This was before the current stringent rules about alcohol at IUPUI.)  On occasion, when everyone else had left following a long, hard day, we would sit in the Dean’s Conference Room, sip sherry, and process the latest events. Sheldon was one of the good, kind people and we will all miss him.”

William Plater, a former Executive Vice Chancellor at IUPUI, noted the “exceptional role Sheldon played in helping us develop the engagement work for the campus, especially on the Westside that has become such a part of IUPUI’s identity.” The Center for Service and Learning benefitted greatly from his early involvement and leadership, he added.

Despite his pressing duties as Dean, Dr. Siegel kept his interest in gerontology very much alive. He had served on the University of Michigan’s Institute of Gerontology, the University of Cincinnati’s Committee on Aging and in 1985 served as chair of the Task Force in the Mental Health Needs of older Hoosiers. He was on the board of the Central Indiana Coalition on Aging  (CICOA)from 1997 to 2004, serving as president of that board from 2000 to 2002.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Natalie; his sons, Daniel, Eli (Mary Smith) and Matthew (Deborah Caul) and grandchildren, Adah and Nathan. Memorial services will be held Aug. 29, at 3 p.m. at Aaron-Ruben-Nelson Mortuary, 11411 N. Michigan Road. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Sheldon and Natalie Siegel Scholarship Fund c/o IU Foundation, PO Box 500, Bloomington, IN 47402.

Press Release Contact:
Rob Schneider
(317) 278-0303