New Dean for School of Social Work Announced

Farmer in an orange shirt

Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, who is a professor and associate dean for research at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work, has been named dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work.

Farmer will begin her deanship on Aug. 1 and arrives as the school celebrates its 100th anniversary.

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Farmer established and managed the School of Social Work Office of Research. She has been involved in a revitalization of the school’s research focus and doctoral curriculum, and initiated a number of cross-disciplinary, community-engaged projects, including the school’s Adopt-A-Classroom program at a local elementary school.

“Betsy has the vision and experience to take the University’s top-ranked School of Social Work and elevate it in prominence, practice and impact,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I am pleased that she is joining us as the school’s new dean and excited to watch her get to work.”

Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson added: “Betsy Farmer has a long and impressive history of championing social work values and enhancing social work research and education. Her extensive and diverse record of dynamic leadership within the institutions she has served and within the broader community positions her well to leverage and enhance the multifaceted work of Pitt’s School of Social Work as it enters its second century.”

Prior to entering academia, Farmer worked in community-based settings, including serving as a treatment foster parent, respite care provider and group home parent. Her experience drove her research interest in improving treatment and care for youth with mental health problems, and she has received significant funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to carry out her work. Her success in improving treatment foster care resulted in an evidence-based model, “Together Facing the Challenge,” which is now being implemented in programs in more than 20 states.

In her new role at Pitt, Farmer says she looks forward to “building upon all of the wonderful work that the school is currently doing and thinking about the ways to expand this into the future.”

She continued: “I love being in social work because the core values and the wide range of critical problems the discipline tackles provide ongoing motivation to work collectively, consistently and creatively to figure out how to improve the world around us.”

Before joining VCU in 2012, Farmer was on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, Duke University and Pennsylvania State University. Since 2011, she has served as co-editor of the Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. She earned a PhD in sociology from Duke.

Farmer’s leadership will follow that of Larry E. Davis, who announced last fall that he was stepping down as dean after 17 years. He is staying on as director of Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems for one year.

Pitt’s School of Social Work was ranked 11th this year by U.S. News & World Report among the nation’s more than 200 advanced social work programs. The school educates professional social workers with the skills to engage in culturally competent practice with diverse populations; engages in scholarly activities that contribute to knowledge about complex social problems and how to ameliorate them; and provides service to people in the 13 counties that surround Pittsburgh through thousands of hours of fieldwork by its students.