Paul Gitlin, beloved teacher of social work, 1926-2012

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Paul Gitlin, a beloved teacher and associate professor emeritus at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, died Jan. 23. He was 85.

Gitlin’s early experiences as a social worker helping school-age children informed his later work as an educator. He helped build SSA’s group work program along with Profs. Irving Spergel and Mary Lou Somers. The group work sequence, initiated in 1958-59 and directed by Somers, was an important bridge between high-level policy and on-the-ground casework.

Gitlin helped to establish the Families, Individuals, and Communities (FIGS) sequence of classes for second-year master’s students and taught many sections of foundational clinical social work classes. He imparted to his students his love for working with and helping children who suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.

“Paul Gitlin was a true social worker. His concern for vulnerable children was unparalleled. He cared deeply about ways in which theory could inform practice to enhance the well-being of children and their families,” said Karen Teigiser, former senior lecturer and deputy dean for the curriculum.

She added that “relationships were at the heart of his life and work. His connection to his students modeled the essence of social work practice. He invited them to develop self-awareness and honesty in their work.His warmth and genuineness were deeply affirming to his students, clients, colleagues and staff.”

Gitlin’s students were equally devoted, and many implemented his wisdom into their careers. Several former students who he inspired, guided and influenced remember Gitlin fondly:

“SSA taught me to always view the big picture, and I believe that my success with people comes from my ability to see the problem as a whole and not just in pieces,” said Rory Gilbert, AM’79. “I owe a lot to SSA and professors such as Paul Gitlin.”

“Paul did more than impart knowledge about how to effectively intervene to help families and individuals,” said Charles Curie, AM’79. “He challenged me to consider what I brought to the problem solving process and consider how to utilize my experiences in conjunction with the evidence of what works. He became a true mentor and friend to each of us, helping us to be more effective through being genuine. It was a great gift.”

“What I appreciated most about Paul during our 36-year relationship was his unwavering commitment to honesty and forthrightness. Paul was resolute about truthfulness and candor, and these are vitally important qualities in social work — indeed, in life. Paul gave meaning to the word integrity and modeled it for generations of students,” said Frederic G. Reamer, AM’75, PhD’78, now a professor in the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College.

Gitlin attended Case Western Reserve University, where he received his masters of science in 1954 and doctorate of social work in 1968. He started as an assistant professor at SSA in 1964.

Gitlin retired from SSA in 1992. He was preceded in death by his wife Dorianne, and is survived by his three children: Naomi (David Saltz), Ruth, and Lew (Laura) and his two grandchildren, Todd and Justin. Services were held.