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Fordham Mourns Former Dean of GSS

Fordham Mourns Former Dean of GSS

Contact: Joanna Klimaski
(212) 636-7175

James R. Dumpson, Ph.D.,
former dean of GSS
Photo by Ken Levinson
The Fordham University community mourns the death of James R. Dumpson, Ph.D., former dean of the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) and tireless advocate for the poor. Dumpson died Monday, Nov. 5 at the age of 103.

“Dr. Dumpson was an outstanding professional role model and leader in the profession,” said Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., dean of GSS. “He was also an exceptional leader in the city of New York, and a wonderful friend and supporter of GSS and the University.”

Born in 1909 in an area of Philadelphia known as Hell’s Half-Acre, Dumpson began his career teaching in a segregated school in Oxford, Pa. He moved on after several years to work as a supervisor in Philadelphia’s welfare bureau, and in 1940, he became a caseworker for the Children’s Aid Society in New York City. He joined the Department of Welfare in 1956 and was appointed deputy commissioner two years later.

In 1959, he became the second black commissioner in New York City government and the first social worker to oversee welfare. He used the position to advocate strongly for the rights of welfare recipients. Against critics of the time, Dumpson argued that those on welfare desperately needed the support, and that virtually every adult would rather work than receive welfare, because employment is bound up with personal dignity.

“There’s no comfort in living on a subsistence level,” Dumpson said. “There’s no comfort in constantly having to establish eligibility. No comfort in the necessary intrusions into your private life to find out if you qualify for assistance.”

In 1967, Dumpson became dean of GSS, making him the first black dean of a nonblack school of social work. He was dean until 1974, when he left to lead New York City’s Human Resources Administration. In this role, he worked fervently to combat welfare fraud, setting up a computer system to identify recipients on city and state payrolls or receiving unemployment benefits.

Since then, he held adjunct professorships at GSS, including a professorship for the endowed chair in Child Welfare that bears his name.

"Jim Dumpson was a man ahead of his time, a great leader in the social welfare and social service community," said Brenda McGowan, Ph.D., professor of social work at GSS and the James R. Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare Studies. "I knew him for about 30 years and always enjoyed his company. He was always charming and interesting."

“He is a gentle man of forceful voice and conviction, agitating on behalf of children, the elderly, and the impoverished,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, on Dumpson’s 100th birthday. “A modern-day Renaissance man, Dr. Dumpson’s long-distinguished activism touches the fields of health, education, social justice, and academia. He is a familiar, popular, and pioneering leader in New York and in the African American community, an icon who worked tirelessly on behalf of others.”

Nicknamed “Little Dynamo” for his energy, Dumpson worked in the administrations of five New York City mayors, his roles ranging from chairman of advisory committees on juvenile justice and foster care, to administrator of health services and head of city hospitals. His work also took him beyond New York City. He served as president of the national Council on Social Work Education and traveled repeatedly to Asia through the United Nations to help set up social work programs.

“Dr. Dumpson made an enormous impact on social work practice in the public and private sector,” said Alma J. Carten, Ph.D., associate professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, who is writing a book on Dumpson’s career. “He made enormous contributions toward improving child welfare services for children of color and in social work education. He built his career on the goal of creating a caring society where all people can reach their full potential.”

Dumpson Chair Brenda McGowan, D.S.W., and Dean Emeritus James R. Dumpson, Ph.D.
Photos by Ken Levinson
"You've always got to hold on to the great potential for change that people [have]," Dumpson once said. "And when you see that change, that's what keeps social workers from being overwhelmed from the misery around us."

Dumpson is survived by his wife, Goldie; his daughter, Jeree Wade; his brother, the Rev. Roland Dumpson; and his sister, Doris D. Grundy.

A wake will be held:

Friday, Nov. 9
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel
1076 Madison Avenue, New York, NY  10028

A funeral will be held:

Saturday, Nov. 10
10 a.m.
St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church
980 Park Avenue, New York, NY  10028

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,100 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in West Harrison, N.Y., the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.

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