In late February, University of Tennessee dean Karen Sowers submitted a proposal to discontinue the master's in social work program at the Memphis campus, the only social-work master's degree offered in the Mid-South.
The proposal, which would shutter the program by 2010, came in response to budget cuts across the UT system. Though the UT board has yet to make a final decision, the University of Memphis is jumping at the chance to serve future students affected by the proposed cut.
"We've always had an interest in establishing a master's program in social work because it fits our mission, but with UT in town, that was a harder sell," said Henry Kurtz, U of M's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "We haven't been able to do much because of cost and competition."
Sowers, who heads UT's College of Social Work, said she's offered the U of M advice on accreditation.
"We're working with them, and I think they're moving as quickly as possible. It looks very promising," Sowers said.
Kurtz said the U of M would need approval from the Board of Regents, and a committee is currently looking into the cost of hiring new faculty and budget issues.
"It's still in talks right now because we have all the same crazy budget issues that UT does, but the intent is clearly there," Kurtz said. "UT had a pretty large program here, and there's going to be a big need in this community."
When UT announced the possible cut of the Memphis program in February, UT alum Jonathan Cole set up a Facebook page protesting the closure. If UT stopped offering its graduate degree in social work, Cole argued that a large population of African-American students would be underserved.
"Only 4 percent of students in the entire UT system are African American, and by closing the program, they risk lowering that already embarrassing statistic," Cole told the Flyer in a February interview.
If the U of M were to establish a master's in social work, that demographic would be served. According to Kurtz, many of U of M's undergraduate social-work students receive their master's at UT.
UT's local campus has already stopped accepting new social-work students, and the fate of the program will be decided at a June Board of Trustees meeting. If the board cuts the program, Sowers said UT-Memphis would continue offering classes for current students.
U of M's program would not begin for at least a year.