Constance McCatherin Silver

Constance Silver
BS '78, MSW '79


After receiving a BS and an MSW from the NYU School of Social Work, Constance Silver was certified in psychoanalysis, worked in private practice, obtained a PhD, and taught at the School as an adjunct faculty member. She is currently an NYU trustee. She and her husband, Martin, both NYU graduates, recently pledged $50 million to the School, enabling it to strengthen its focus on research-based clinical practice, examine poverty’s causes and solutions, and provide financial aid to a more diverse group of students. In honor of their support, the School was renamed the NYU Silver School of Social Work (SSSW) in 2007.

What motivated you and your husband to make this donation to the SSSW?

My husband, Martin, and I grew up in poverty, my husband in a tenement in the Bronx and I in rural Maine. We were lucky and smart enough. Many people helped us on the way up. We believe in payback; it’s just the right thing to do. We’re not altruistic; everything we give makes us feel good. We’re the real recipients.

What do you think is the significance of the School’s 50th anniversary?

The School has not only survived but, I think, it has become the finest clinical school in the country. It’s moving ahead in every way possible, especially because of greater financial backing, of which we need more.

My husband and I have provided funding to establish the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. (“McSilver” combines Silver’s married and maiden names). Some projects the Institute might undertake are: examining the foster care system to find out why it’s not working as it should; spousal abuse; and how people living in poverty can start to create wealth.

The Institute is collaborating with other schools within the University, as well─law, business, education and public administration─to be able to carry out its mission.

Why is social work research important?

Social workers have worked intensively in areas such as child welfare, only to see the same problems recur. We needed a clearer understanding of what’s going wrong.

Once you have that, you can do corrective surgery. Otherwise, you’re just applying band-aid after band-aid, which is necessary to stop the bleeding, but it’s much better to be able to go straight to corrective work.

Research enhances the reputation of the School, as we back up our clinical strengths with solid research. We’ve been able to attract many students and to hire more, excellent faculty. Other schools have a lot of trouble out-performing us.

Who are the Silver scholars? Why are these students so important to you?

Doing social work in New York, we serve many ethnic minorities. It was obvious to me that the School needed more ethnicity in our ranks. Our gift established the Constance McCatherin Silver Fellowship providing financial aid to very smart MSW students who wouldn’t be able to attend social work school without this help. I personally review every application and in some cases, I’ve been able to interview the students themselves. I wish more students worldwide could attend.

It is important to prepare students who will go back into their communities and provide service. Understanding the community is extremely helpful. For instance, if you were going into a Hispanic home, you might expect it to be warm and welcoming; you might be invited to drink a cup of coffee with them before you discussed problems. You might not do that with a Japanese family; it would be somewhat different. Not better or worse, just different. Our students need to try to master the ethnic differences in populations and not stereotype.

What advice can you give to students who are graduating and entering the field in hard times, when it’s difficult to find jobs?

As my grandma would say, you need “stick-to-itiveness.” Keep at it, do what you have to do until you get the job you want. Many organizations are looking for folks who are willing to work hard. For example, there are tremendous job opportunities working with Gulf War veterans, who are in desperate need.