Harry Specht

1929 – 1995

Purposeful man with remarkable achievements

Harry Specht knew about social workers first hand. Having a difficult childhood facing both the deprivations of the Great Depression and an unsettled, impoverished home life, Harry quickly learned that social workers were people who could provide some semblance of order in his otherwise stressful childhood environment. His father died when he was two and his mother, depressed and alcoholic, was periodically institutionalized. Economic necessity made school a low priority for Harry. He worked many part time jobs to help support the family and took classes at night. During his early professional years, Specht immersed himself working with street gangs and in the great and famous settlement houses in New York City. In the early 1960’s he returned to graduate school and obtained his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 1964. This signaled his entrance into the world of academia , of disciplined inquiry, of research, of writing.

Specht’s writings examined the field of social work with a critical and lively intelligence. He was a leading authority on community organization and social planning. His book, Community Organization remains a basic text in this area. He analyzed trends in professional practice and education which include: the development of new career programs; the deprofessionalization of social work; professional ethics; models of education for direct and indirect services; professionalism; and a comparative analysis of the professional performance of BSW and MSW program graduates. As the author of Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Has Abandoned Its Mission, he provided a cogent and influential case for social work as a profession of community change. The book still provides a provocative challenge to the profession to return to its original mission of aid and service to the poor.

Moving on to California with his family in 1964, Specht became an associate professor at San Francisco State and a year later joined the faculty at UC Berkeley. He rose from lecturer through the professional ranks and was appointed dean of the school in 1977 where he earned national and international renown for his scholarship, leadership and advocacy in social welfare and social work education for 17 years.

Harry Specht’s achievements as a social work leader, scholar and administrator reflected his intelligence, his clear sense of purpose and his great skills of advocacy. He was a teacher who gave of himself, spending hours with doctorate students generous beyond any reasonable expectation. He has received numerous awards. Posterity will recognize his great contributions to relevant education, social change, and a social work profession sensitive to society’s most pressing problems. Specht’s work has made a significant impact on professional practice and graduate social work education in California and the nation.

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