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September 24, 2001

Social Work Scholars Heads
Tri-Campus Urban Studies Program

A professor of social work from the University of Houston has joined the UConn faculty as director of the tri-campus urban studies program.

Robert Fisher, who started his new job in August, heads the first four-year degree program in place for the tri-campus system. The interdisciplinary program includes sites in West Hartford, Waterbury, and Torrington. The program will continue at the Storrs campus as well.

Bob Fisher brings a distinguished record of scholarship to the University's tri-campus urban studies program and offers a special perspective as a professor in the School of Social Work," says Fred Maryanski, chancellor for academic administration. "Urban studies was conceived as an interdisciplinary program, and involving Bob and his social work colleagues in this liberal arts under- graduate program is a major step forward for the University."

The program, leading to an undergraduate degree in urban studies, prepares students to be city planners, town government officials, economic development leaders, or other service providers in the public or private sectors. Many students go on to graduate school in areas such as public administration, city planning, and social work.

Fisher says offering urban studies in the tri-campus program is a "perfect fit." The program offers students who are interested in cities the opportunity to remain and study there, he says.

Students majoring in urban studies must take 24 hours of major requirements, including courses in history, political science, sociology, economics and geography, and 12 hours of related courses. They also have the option of specifying a concentration consisting of a set of courses including those in urban and regional planning, public policy and administration, social and human services, and urban culture. Students are also required to do an internship or a senior thesis.

"Boosting the urban studies program will ultimately have a positive effect on Connecticut cities by providing students who will be well trained to handle urban issues, and faculty who can bring their research expertise to bear on urban problems in the state," Fisher says. There are a number of cities in need of attention and this is an opportunity for the University to have greater presence and impact on these cities, he adds.

At the University of Houston's Graduate School of Social Work, Fisher rose from lecturer in 1984 to full professor in 1993. He was a Fulbright Scholar from 1986 to 1988 at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and in 1994 at the University of Graz, Austria. From 1999 to 2000 he was a Henry and Lucy Moses Distinguished Professor at the School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York.

Fisher earned a bachelor's degree in history and economics from Rutgers University and master's and Ph.D. degrees in urban history from New York University.

He says his new position at UConn bridges his formal training in urban studies and his experience in a graduate school of social work. He has published many articles and book chapters on issues of urban policy, privatization and social service delivery, community organization and neighborhoods, and urban social movements.

The author of the well regarded book, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America, and co-author of several books, Fisher has a new one forthcoming: The Settlement House Under Siege: Corporatized Social Services and the Struggle for Community, published by Columbia University Press. The book explores contemporary pressures on non-profit social service delivery and the capacity of non-profits to build community.

The Storrs campus has offered a program in urban studies since the mid-1970s, says Peter Halvorson, a geography professor who has been involved with the program for many years. According to Halvorson, the program was popular at the start, with some 65 majors until the early 1980s. During the Reagan administration, he says, students around the nation believed there were going to be fewer public sector jobs, and interest and enrollments in urban studies programs declined.

But Fisher contends there is a deep contemporary interest in renewing cities and rebuilding community and says the content and opportunities of an urban studies program should resonate with students at urban campuses.

Two additional new faculty have been hired in urban studies: Mark Robbins, an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the political science department and in the Institute of Public and Urban Affairs, and Robert Bifulco, who will join the faculty next fall, with the same joint appointment. Both have a Ph.D. in public administration from Syracuse. Robbins joins Uconn from the University of Georgia, where he was an assistant professor of political science. Bifulco earned his Ph.D. this year.

Sherry Fisher

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