Ernest Witte

1904 – 1986

Mastermind of California schools of social work

Ernest Witte was a true leader in social work education. A native of Nebraska, he began his social work career in the early 1930s working in public welfare programs. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1925 in Nebraska and his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1932. While in Chicago, he distinguished himself as the first field representative of the Social Security Board.

During World War II, Witte was actively involved in assisting refugees and displaced persons in Germany and Italy. He also directed the care of concentration camp survivors

The “mastermind” for the development of Schools of Social Work in California State University System, he was hired by Governor Pat Brown in the early 1960’s to assess the need for and the development of a strategic plan for creating additional Schools of Social Work in California. Supported with funding approved by the California Legislature, Witte plan was a direct response to the findings by a welfare study commission that the large number of social workers would be needed to serve a growing population.

Witte proposed the creation of seven new Schools of Social Work through the California State University in a decade. Between 1963 and 1970 he was instrumental in getting five new Schools of Social Work operational within California State University. These included: California State University, Fresno, 1963; California State University, Sacramento, 1963; San Diego State University, 1963; San Francisco State University, l968; and San Jose State University, l970. In addition to founding the School of Social Work at San Diego State University he became its Dean. Witte’s work laid the foundation that subsequently led to a total of eleven accredited Schools of Social Work in the State University System, with another three schools in the candidacy phase of the accreditation process. The development of these schools was a major achievement for the State of California and the social work profession.

Although Witte was to spend most of his working life in schools of social work, his most outstanding work may have been the establishment of the Council on Social Work Education where he served as the Executive Director. CSWE, a partnership of educational and professionals institutions, social welfare agencies and private citizens continues to accredit professional social work education programs to ensure quality and relevant preparation of future social workers.

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