SPRINGFIELD (AP) - Enrollment in Missouri State University's School of Social Work is climbing again thanks to new programs, more demand for social workers and the passage of time since a damaging 2007 lawsuit.
The school reported that 105 students enrolled in the university's master's program in social work this year, compared with 92 students in 2009. Enrollment in the bachelor's program increased from 69 in 2009 to at least 93 this year, The Springfield News-Leader reported.
Student Emily Brooker sued the school in 2007, alleging the faculty punished her when she refused on religious grounds to sign a letter to state lawmakers supporting same-sex adoptions. The school and Brooker settled the lawsuit, with the university paying Brooker's attorney fees and clearing her academic record.
A university review of the program found a "toxic environment" that included bullying students, bias against them based on their faith and a lack of faculty productivity.
"When something like that happens, I think time helps a lot," said Carol L. Langer, who became director of the School of Social Work a year ago. "It's like having an upheaval in your personal life."
Because of the review, four professors were reassigned to non-teaching duties outside the School of Social Work. All the professors, who were over 50, sued the university, alleging age discrimination. Two of them currently are listed as teaching at the school; one retired in 2011 and the other died in 2009, the newspaper reported.
In response to growing demand, the university opened a master's program in social work at West Plains, which has 10 students enrolled. And this month, the university started a bachelor's program in social work at Crowder College in Neosho. Students also will be able to pursue a master's degree at a Missouri State satellite center in Joplin.
Another reason for the growth is a national shortage of social workers, largely because of baby boomers' aging, Langer said. Some of those retirees are social workers who need to be replaced, and the elderly also need social workers to help them deal with health, death and bereavement issues.