The University of Illinois at Chicago welcomes Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares

Jan 14, 2009 08:00 AM

“I look forward to hitting the ground running when I arrive,” Paula Allen-Meares said last July, after the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved her appointment as UIC chancellor.

Friday, Allen-Meares officially takes that running start.

The former dean of social work at the University of Michigan begins her tenure as the sixth chancellor in UIC’s 27-year history, taking over from interim chancellor Eric Gislason, who has served since the retirement of former chancellor Sylvia Manning in December 2007.

In the five-plus months since the trustees’ official vote, Allen-Meares has made numerous trips to campus, meeting with administrators and staff, donors, alumni and students. She’ll attend Thursday’s board of trustees meeting in Student Center West, listening as Gislason makes his final presentation to the board.

“As I have become even more familiar with UIC, its history and its people, so, too, have I become more grateful for the honor of being selected your next chancellor,” she wrote in a Dec. 16 e-mail to the campus community.

When Allen-Meares, who was selected from a field of more than 100 candidates, was introduced at a June 17 press conference, trustees chairman Lawrence Eppley called her a “proven success” who has “exactly the right stuff that an ascendant UIC requires in a chancellor.”

As dean of social work at Michigan since 1993, she led the school to consistent rankings as No. 1 in the nation, improving its research profile with externally funded interdisciplinary research awards totalling more than $100 million. The school established interdisciplinary degree programs with law and public policy and set up partnerships with other agencies, institutes and communities.

Under her leadership, the social work school at Michigan increased its endowments from $1 million to $42.3 million; she raised $34 million in private and public funds between 1995 and 1998.

“We were looking for someone who could communicate with the city and state, speak for the institution and be a leader,” said Elliot Kaufman, chair of the 20-member chancellor search advisory committee and professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics.

“She clearly sends the message that she’s a doer, that she’ll get things done.”

Allen-Meares’ research focuses on school social work, adolescents and their families, and social work education. Her books include Social Work Services in Schools, now in its fifth edition, with Korean, Japanese and Chinese versions.

At Michigan, she was principal investigator of the Global Program on Youth, an initiative sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health’s Social Work Research Center on Poverty, Risk and Mental Health. She was principal investigator of the Skillman Good Neighbors Grant.

She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and a trustee of the New York Academy of Medicine.

“When it comes to hard work, I have never met anyone who sets the pace achieved by Paula Allen-Meares,” U of I President B. Joseph White said at the June press conference.

Allen-Meares grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where she was a hospital volunteer and camp counselor as a teenager before earning her undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

She went to Urbana-Champaign for graduate studies in social work, working as a child welfare worker for the Department of Children and Family Services and a school social worker for the Urbana public schools while she completed her master’s and Ph.D.

She joined the Urbana social work faculty after earning her doctorate in 1975, moving up the academic ladder to become dean of the school in 1990. Her husband, Henry Meares, assistant dean for external relations at Michigan’s school of education, and their three daughters are Urbana graduates.

“We heartily welcome her back to the U of I fold,” Eppley said when her appointment was approved.

“I truly believe I am taking on one of the best jobs in higher education in this country,” she replied.