Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Volunteers Michael King, center, and Christina Mangum help director Joy O'Banion, left, director of the Family Support and Treatment Center of Orem, box up a donation of stuffed animals.

PROVO — Brigham Young University officials say they had good reasons to cancel the bachelor's of social work program.

But some students, along with concerned social-service agency directors and school district chiefs, say they will suffer a negative ripple effect.

"This is not a done deal. We will fight this forever," said Marc Gilchrist, 29, of Orem, a first-year student in BYU's master's of social work program.

Officials with local social services agencies, as well as Alpine and Provo school districts, are not happy with the idea of losing the crop of social work students who lend hands at various organizations and agencies to fulfill 480 required hours of community volunteer work.

And some BYU social work students are planning to protest the decision at a demonstration Monday, and say they will continue to protest until they get more answers or until the program is reinstated.

David Magleby, dean of BYU's College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, says the decision was made after much study. He announced the decision — and explained the reasons — in October.

The next month, students staged a 50-person off-campus protest.

Magleby said the primary purpose of eliminating the bachelor's of social work program is to improve the master's of social work program. BYU also aims to strengthen the three graduate clinical programs in the college: psychology, marriage and family therapy, and social work, he said.

Further, BYU is concerned about an insufficient number of potential social work faculty, Magleby said. "A viable program needs to have a strong pool of faculty," he said.

Because of the limited pool of faculty, BYU has been worried about accreditation of its BSW and MSW programs, Magleby added.

"As we work to build and improve our programs, we will make changes," said BYU Academic Vice President John Tanner. "Through these changes we hope to strengthen the MSW program by providing superb, master's-qualified students ready to take leadership positions in the field."

Meanwhile, officials at nearby Utah Valley State College are studying a proposal to implement a bachelor's of social work program. The proposal was submitted to UVSC administrators in the fall. It would have to go through the college's Board of Trustees and administration, then to the State Board of Regents for final approval.

UVSC offers a bachelor's degree in behavioral science with four available emphasis areas: anthropology, psychology, social work and sociology.

The benefit of having a bachelor's of social work program over other bachelor's degrees is a BSW graduate can immediately take a test to become licensed, which leads to a better job and possibly a higher salary. Graduates of other bachelor's degrees, such as psychology or sociology, must fulfill some 2,000 hours of full-time supervised field work during which they are paid at an entry-level salary before being tested.

"A BSW is a very marketable degree," said Brent Platt, western regional director for Utah's Division of Child and Family Services.

Of the universities in Utah offering social work programs, the University of Utah offers a bachelor's, master's and doctorate; Utah State has a bachelor's and master's; and Weber State has a bachelor's program. Southern Utah offers a master's in social work but not a bachelor's.

BYU's BSW program will end in spring 2010. This will allow students who are in the program, or who were just accepted into the program for winter 2008, to complete their degrees.

Magleby says he understands agency and school district officials may be upset at the idea of losing the BSW volunteers.

BYU's 60 second-year BSW students have been required to volunteer two semesters for a total 480 hours. Platt points out the students receive free training and good work experience.

"I am quite confident BYU will find at least that number of qualified BYU students who can intern with these agencies," Magleby said, adding many BYU students do volunteer work, regardless of their major.

Many students in the other three bachelor's degree programs in the College of Family, Home and Social Science — psychology, sociology and the school of family life — will be doing a one-semester internship. While these internships aren't required for graduation, generally the students do them in order to gain experience and build their resume, Magleby said.

Joy O'Banion, director of the Family Support and Treatment Center of Orem, which provides prevention and treatment services for children, adults and families dealing with child abuse and neglect, says she uses BYU volunteers in a crisis nursery. It's difficult to find volunteers, unless they are fulfilling a requirement for school or another entity, she said.

"I don't think BYU realizes the impact — how it would affect the community," Platt said. He is also on the board of directors for the Children's Justice Center, which helps abused children.

Alpine and Provo School Districts use the BSW volunteers in their elementary schools. Nebo School District is considering using the BSW students next school year. BSW students do everything from talking to students about self-esteem to giving anti-bullying presentations.

Alpine district has eight interns this year. "We have 46 elementary schools. We could use 46 interns. They are a real help in the schools," said John Burton, Alpine district K-6 administrator.

Agency officials are also upset that they weren't consulted about BYU's decision. "Everyone was completely caught off guard," Platt said.

O'Banion agrees. "We were shocked. It was totally out of the blue."

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