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In memoriam: Robert W. Roberts, 84

During his tenure as dean at USC, the administrator launched a part-time program for working professionals

Robert Roberts
During his time as dean, Robert Roberts launched a part-time program designed for working professionals. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Libraries)

Robert Winston Roberts, dean emeritus of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, died Nov. 8, 2016, in San Diego. He was 84.

Roberts joined the USC faculty in 1970, teaching part-time at the School of Urban Planning (now the USC Price School of Public Policy) and part-time at the social work school, where he served as director of the undergraduate social work program. He later became a professor, then associate dean and finally dean of the school, a position he held for nine years. During his tenure as dean, Roberts launched a part-time program designed for working professionals, and he started an off-campus program in Orange County.

Growing up in Pittsburgh during the Great Depression, Roberts became familiar with social work at an early age. Social workers were constantly in and out of his life as a child, public assistance workers in particular, and he often received services from a local community center. He began working at the age of 8, and by 13 he was earning enough money to make his own way.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force for several years, with a two-year stint in Okinawa, Japan, Roberts attended San Francisco State University on the GI Bill. In 1957, he graduated with high honors with a dual degree in sociology and philosophy. He went on to receive his master’s degree in social work from the University of California, Berkeley.

Roberts’ first job out of graduate school was with the city and county of San Francisco in child welfare protective services. Based primarily in the Fillmore District, the program was an aggressive outreach program targeting potentially delinquent children. After that, he took a job at Edgewood, formerly known as the San Francisco Protestant Orphanage, and then with Jewish Family Services in San Francisco.

He later returned to higher education, obtaining his doctorate in 1970 from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, where he taught for a year before joining the faculty at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

During his time in Chicago, Roberts wrote his first book, Theories of Social Casework (University of Chicago Press), which he considered to be his greatest contribution to the social work profession, as stated in his 1993 interview with the California Social Welfare Archives. This was followed by other books on comparative theories in group work and community work. In addition, he published numerous book reviews and articles, and presented all over the world.

Roberts is survived by Paul Edwards, his partner of 21 years; three sisters, Patricia Schiveley, Kay Vivian and June Cowan; and a nephew, Jeff Hunt.

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In memoriam: Robert W. Roberts, 84

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