GSSW Deans and Directors Series: Emil M. Sunley – 3rd GSSW Director/1st Dean

EMIL M. SUNLEY (“Sun”)

(1906-1977)

3rd GSSW Director/Dean

(1947-1971)

Dean Emeritus

NASW Foundation Social Work Pioneer

Emil M. Sunley picture

Following college, Sunley worked at the United Charities of St. Paul, MN, and eventually was promoted to Assistant Secretary. Later, he was appointed to a teaching position with the Department of Social Administration, State University of Iowa while also earning his MSW. Convinced of the need for doctorates in a growing profession, which then had only a handful, he entered the doctoral program of the School of Social Service Administration of the University of Chicago, completing his Ph.D. in 1938. Prior to coming to GSSW, he headed social work departments at West Virginia University and University of Louisville.

Was the first head of social work at DU to be appointed Dean. Dramatically increased the size of the student body and faculty. Sunley secured Templin Hall as GSSW’s home in 1954. When GSSW outgrew Templin, he worked to raise funds for its eventual new home in Spruce Hall. A tireless fund-raiser, he obtained many federal training and research grants for GSSW. During his tenure, GSSW achieved what only 4 other schools of social work had accomplished: accreditation of course sequences in psychiatric social work, group work, school social work, and medical social work. Sunley created a pre-professional undergraduate social welfare program in 1948, and the doctoral program in social work in 1968. Active in national, regional, and local social welfare organizations. Served on CSWE national committees. Suffered a severe heart attack in 1960, but was back to work within two months. At the time of his retirement, was the longest serving dean of social work in the country.

The DEAN EMIL M. SUNLEY MERIT AWARD is given by the Dean, in consultation with the faculty, to a June MSW graduate in recognition of meritorious service to the School or to the profession of social work.

Sunley group picture

Professor Dorothea Spellmann described Dean Sunley as follows:

“A quick smile, a Southern drawl, anything but a Southern pace in walking, in the office in the morning before everyone else. Straight leveling, tough argument, hard words, even disagreements. Then, the next morning: the quick smile greeting, and – ‘I’ve been thinking it over and…. Faculty members could count on him for an honest exchange, given and received, and returned in a spirit of respect, with humor.”

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