Theory is an essential element of social work education because it provides a foundational understanding of how and why policies and practices can advance social work values and ethics. However, very little research examines how social work faculty view different theories. The current study explores faculty’s views toward theories for MSW education. Our two guiding research questions are: (a) to assess which theories faculty perceive as the most important for MSW programs to teach, and (b) to examine if faculty view specific theories as more important than others.
The Faculty Attitudes Survey was designed to study the views of social work faculty towards Diversity, Human Rights, and Social and Economic Justice content in MSW curricula. A random sample of 1,355 MSW faculty were invited to participate in an online Qualtrics survey. The survey had a response rate of 18.5% with a sample of 256 participants. The sample primarily self-identified as women (70%), white (64%), heterosexual (73%), holding a doctoral degree (50%), and with an average age of 55.7. Survey questions focused on 5 topic areas, including theory. To assess views of different theories, a list of 39 theories taught in social work programs was presented to participants. Participants were asked to select which theories they believe are important for MSW programs to teach and then rate their importance. This study focuses on five theories that center specific positionalities (economic status, race, SES, sex, sexual orientation), as well as intersectionality theory, which highlights the importance of multiple positionalities.
No participant rated any of the 39 theories as Not Important or Of Little Importance, indicating that faculty agree that these are important theories to teach in the MSW curriculum. Respondents agreed that teaching the theories about different positionalities and intersectionality is Important or Very Important. Frequencies indicated that faculty were most supportive of theories regarding income inequality (83.6%) and least supportive of Queer Theory (52.4%).
Paired-samples t-tests revealed that faculty rated income inequality and income justice theories as more important than theories on all other positionalities. For example, theories on income inequality (M = 3.73, SD = 0.50) were rated as more important than feminist theories, (M = 3.59, SD = 0.53), p < .05. Queer theory (M = 3.44, SD = 0.63) was rated as less important compared to all other theories, and was rated as less important compared to Critical Race Theory, (M = 3.74, SD = 0.52), p < .001.
The 2015 CSWE EPAS requires social work students to develop competencies to “engage diversity and difference” and “advance human rights, social, economic, and environmental justice.” Developing these competencies should be undergirded with understanding theories that support and illuminate this learning. Our findings highlight how faculty have different perceptions of the level of importance of theories that can guide the MSW curriculums. These findings suggest that social work programs should encourage faculty to be familiar with and teach the theories that most closely support these competencies.