A photo of a man standing to the left of a woman with the arm closest to her behind her back and the other stretched up in the air waving. To the man's left is a another man holding a triangle flag that says \"VCU\" and to the woman's right is a another woman holding pompoms. Behind them, the stadium's seats are filled with people watching.
Frank Baskind, Ph.D., who served as dean of the School of Social Work from 1992 to 2008, was recognized at halftime during a VCU men’s basketball game against Gardner-Webb on Dec. 30, 2023. (Photo by VCU Athletics)

Frank Baskind, dean emeritus of social work, retiring after 32 years at VCU

He built on the legacies of Elaine Rothenberg and Grace Harris in making the School of Social Work a national leader.

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Frank Baskind said he was interested in “a helping career,” and he helped in a variety of ways – and in a variety of settings.

With a background in social work, Baskind, Ph.D., taught in a nursing education program, worked in a police department, assisted patients and in a chronic disease and rehabilitation hospital, and developed a suicide prevention and crisis intervention helpline in Connecticut.

But in a career that exceeded a half-century, Baskind did most of his work at Virginia Commonwealth University. After 32 years on campus, he will retire this summer as professor and dean emeritus in the School of Social Work, a title he has held since 2013. Baskind previously served as dean for nearly 17 years and as university ombudsman for five.

With a commitment to academic and real-world achievement – “the knowledge, values and skills of social work education are transferable in practice settings,” he said – Baskind helped propel VCU’s School of Social Work on a national level.

Baskind built on the foundations laid by his two renowned predecessors as dean: Elaine Z. Rothenberg and Grace Harris. Rothenberg was the first woman appointed as dean (1972-82) and served in leadership roles with the National Association of Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education. Harris, dean from 1982 to 1991, was the first Black woman to serve as dean and later became VCU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs; she also was interim president on two occasions.

“It was an awestruck experience,” Baskind said of succeeding the two. “They were powerhouses in social work education.”

He was, too, as his work with faculty and staff enhanced the School of Social Work’s national prominence – as reflected by high rankings for faculty scholarship and the school’s academic programs. Baskind created administrative positions focused on research, community engagement, strategic initiatives, recruitment and retention, and his tenure saw the creation of the first course offerings via distance-learning technology – a precursor to the school’s successful online master’s in social work program. Dual master’s degrees and certificates of study were developed to expand learning opportunities.

A photo of a man sitting at a desk with his arms crossing in front of him on the desk.
After more than 30 years at VCU, Frank Baskind, Ph.D., is retiring. (Photo by Allison Bell, School of Social Work)

“I am most proud of the scholarly, instructional contributions and community contributions of our faculty members and the successful careers of our graduates,” Baskind said. “And with today’s school leadership team and the cadre of faculty, the school’s social work programs will continue to flourish.”

During his work as dean, the school also was awarded federal contracts to administer child development Head Start programs in community agencies, and international connections were established in Belarus, Ukraine, Belize, Ghana and the Dominican Republic. An annual Social Justice Week was launched as well.

Baskind also served as the national level in prominent roles with CSWE – first as chair of the commission on accreditation, and then as president-elect and president.

“Frank encouraged, as well as supported and mentored, both faculty and student involvement,” said Marcia Harrigan, Ph.D., who held faculty and administrative roles over 30 years in the School of Social Work before retiring in 2011 as senior associate dean for academic and student affairs.

“At the annual CSWE meetings, VCU social work faculty were prominent as chairs of various commissions, presenters of academic research by both faculty and students, and other leadership roles within CSWE, such as site visitors at other schools seeking reaffirmation of accreditation,” Harrigan said. “Frank encouraged faculty to contribute to the social work literature not only through research and juried scholarship but also through academic book-writing, all of which promoted the VCU School of Social Work nationally, even internationally.”

Baskind is particularly proud of how faculty led the rethinking and revision of curriculums across the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral social work programs.

“Faculty leadership made the school very strong during those years,” he said. “We complemented each other playing different roles.”

Baskind’s early lessons in team-building – and teaching – came from his time in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s. An ROTC cadet at Fordham University, he joined the service upon graduation, starting as a first lieutenant in the adjutant general corps and working primarily in personnel. At Fort Knox, he took courses toward a graduate degree, then shipped out for a year in Vietnam, where he continued to serve in personnel and taught GED classes for enrolled troops seeking their high school diplomas.

“I was exposed to so many different people in the military, from different states, backgrounds, lifestyles and races,” Baskind said. “I learned that when we work together and communicate, our understanding and acceptance of each other increases.”

Following his two-year active-duty service – he retired from the Reserves as lieutenant colonel after 22 years – Baskind earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in social work from the University of Connecticut. He went on to found the undergraduate social work program at the University of Tennessee, as associate professor. He later became dean of social work – and founding dean of the reorganized School of Social Work and Human Services – at Southern Connecticut State University.

Baskind also earned a master’s degree in theology from St. Leo University, and he and said the values and perspectives of his faith intersect with the regard for human dignity that underpins the social work profession.

After decades of helping others, Baskind now can shift his focus a bit. Transitioning to retirement, he emphasized how the inspiration, love and support of his wife, Pat, throughout the twists and turns of his career should be celebrated – and he said his priorities are clear: “Family first!”

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