Farewell But Not Goodbye, Q&A with Dean Nancy J. Smyth

Dean Nancy Smyth at commencement in regalia, happy, hands up facing the audience.

In academia, deans of schools regularly move in and out of this crucial position; such changes are part of keeping a school administration healthy and functional. Our dean for over 16 years, Nancy J. Smyth, is doing just that now, wrapping up her time in the position she has occupied so capably.

She will segue directly into a sabbatical, another commonplace event in a working academic’s life—a year off to refresh, regroup, and rebuild one’s next area of focus (in Smyth’s 30+ years at UB, she’s taken exactly one). We are thrilled to have her return to her role as a faculty member and contributing scholar, and in the meantime, say, thank you for your service, well deserved, and we’ll see you when you get back!

Why are you stepping down now?

My passion is for creating and building things—the school is doing well now;  my goal is to leave on a high note. Deans spend on average 5–7 years in the position, that’s about what it takes to accomplish your goals. By that measure, I’ve stayed a long time, and I want to make sure I don’t overstay my effectiveness.

Is there a roadmap for the next dean?

The path has been defined towards excellence; the near-future is about what the next person brings. I hope they work with all stakeholders to build on the vision and shape the future of the profession and our society. And racial justice and equity need to be an important piece of what anyone does in social work right now.

What plans do you have?

I haven’t figured it all out yet, it’s been a hard year to get much thinking time.  I’ll do a little decompressing, but I’ll get bored if I don’t move on!

I’m looking forward to being colleagues with faculty again. As I clean out my office and plan for my sabbatical, I am asking myself what I want to do longer-term. I do want to mentor, teach, learn and participate in service, which you can’t do as much of as dean.

My interests have shifted from my past focus on trauma and addiction, to larger professional leadership issues; such as how social work prepares for and shapes the future. This can include working across disciplines in a way that transcends their natural boundaries; the scholarly term for it is “transdisciplinarity.” As part of this, I’m focused on social innovation and technology for social good, including ensuring that technology promotes justice and equity.