Alumni Relations and Development
Landmark gift to UChicago is nation’s largest ever for the study of social work, policy, and practice
A new commitment to the University of Chicago from James and Paula Crown and their family will support the School of Social Service Administration, which will be renamed the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. This honors the School’s historic legacy and enables an ambitious expansion of its vision to advance a more just and humane society.
The landmark gift—the largest ever in support of a school of social work—will advance the School’s educational and scholarly mission. It will increase student financial aid, support faculty research and hiring, and strengthen community engagement to address the challenges of inequality and related social problems.
The Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice is focused on identifying solutions to complex problems affecting society’s most vulnerable individuals through the integration of research, training, and direct community engagement. Guided by an interdisciplinary tradition, its scholars conduct innovative research to address interconnected social challenges such as educational inequality, health disparities, crime and violence, poverty, and child and family welfare—working at multiple scales, from individual to policy-level interventions.
“Since its founding more than a century ago, SSA has been a leader in applying rigorous research to address social issues,” said then-President Robert J. Zimmer in January 2021. “This generous gift will transform the ability of scholars and students at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice to carry out their work with far-reaching impact and to engage even more deeply with communities, leading to breakthroughs and lasting improvement for society.”
One of the first graduate schools of social work in the country, the School recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of both its PhD program and its formal relationship with the University of Chicago. It has since become the premier training ground for social workers and social welfare scholars, enhancing social work education through its commitment to evidence-based research and community-engaged scholarship. In 2020, it became the academic home of the Urban Education Institute (UEI), which combines ambitious research, close collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, the dissemination of new tools, and the operation of a charter school with three campuses on the South Side of Chicago to foster greater opportunities and excellence in public education.
The $75 million gift will bring the Crown family’s total giving in support of social work, education, and access at UChicago to more than $100 million.
“The challenges facing today’s communities require innovative, interdisciplinary, and proactive solutions,” said James Crown, a University trustee and past chairman of the board, who serves as CEO of Henry Crown and Company. “We are honored to make this investment in understanding and addressing profound societal challenges on both a local and global scale. The University of Chicago is preeminent in its emphasis on the research and development of new ideas that can influence both policy and solution-based interventions.” Added Paula Crown: “The events of 2020 only serve to underscore the importance of everyone’s focus on the needs of society’s most vulnerable individuals. We are thrilled to be able to support the University in this effort.”
The School’s faculty conduct research on public policies, social programs, and social work practice with individuals and families affecting diverse populations in the U.S. and globally, including immigrants and refugees; racial/ethnic and sexual minorities; low-income workers; and individuals with health or mental health challenges and special needs. They study far-ranging topics such as child welfare, urban education, homelessness, healthcare, policing, the prevention of youth violence, urban politics, low-paid employment, immigration, child and family policy, and substance use and abuse.
“The public health crisis and pronounced social divisions in our country further underscore the urgency of the School’s mission,” said Deborah Gorman-Smith, dean of the Crown Family School and the Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor. “Our faculty, students, and alumni, now on the frontlines providing immediate support and leadership, are leveraging research to narrow systemic gaps and inequalities. This truly transformative gift will allow us to build on our research and expand our educational mission, leading to improved policies and interventions that will make deep and sustained change.”
Locally, the commitment will allow the Crown Family School to build upon its partnership with city and state agencies, social service organizations, and Chicago Public Schools in order to expand evidence-based, collaborative interventions. An example of such work is the School’s Network for College Success, which, using research out of the UChicago Consortium on School Research at the Urban Education Institute, collaborated with Chicago Public Schools to reduce the high school dropout rate to historically low levels.
“Chicago Public Schools and the Crown Family School share a bold and ambitious vision for what public education is and can be. Through our partnership with the Crown Family School’s Urban Education Institute, UChicago Consortium on School Research, and Network for College Success, CPS has lowered dropout rates, provided new teaching and social supports to students and educators, and created an environment where students can achieve their highest potential,” said Janice K. Jackson, then-CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “Working together, we have developed a remarkable educational model that reflects equity and achievement, and accelerates learning, college readiness, and leadership.”
The Crown family has been a strong supporter of the University for more than three generations. In addition to gifts supporting the Crown Family School and UEI specifically, they have helped improve access to education through the Crown Family Chicago Odyssey Scholarship and the Chicago Public Schools Scholarship. They have also established a Professorship in Molecular Engineering and the Henry Crown Professorship in Hebrew Studies.
Adapted from a story originally published on January 27, 2021, on UChicago News
Photo courtesy of the Crown Family School