Dr. John Coates Named Professor Emeritus

Although Dr. John Coates has seen a lot of changes during his three decades teaching social work at St. Thomas University, he says one thing always remained the same — his students were compassionate individuals driven by a desire to help others.

Dr. Coates was named Professor Emeritus at Summer Convocation, a rank awarded to retired professors who have served the university with great distinction.

“It’s both humbling and exciting to receive this honour,” Coates said. “My colleagues have been good folks to work with over the years, and students have always been a joy to work with.”

Coates remembers his time at STU fondly, especially the moments when he learned and gained insight from his students.

“If you open the door to a two-way conversation, students have insights and observations you never thought of. The best classes would be when you would have this interactive dialogue going on and I would tell them what I think, and they would react and respond in terms of their context and experience. Out of that, my understanding would expand as theirs did.”

Coates said the social work program has evolved a lot since he first arrived. The program structure now focuses more attention to community work, and so students and graduates have more experience working in the community in addition to the direct practice portion of the program.

“I think when we are dealing with people in social work, we are very often dealing with people who have problems that aren’t their fault,” Coates explained. “And so by building community services, you are helping to mitigate some of those factors. A lot of people experience social or personal problems but if we had a world that was functioning correctly, in my view, some of these problems wouldn’t emerge.”

Throughout his time at St. Thomas, Coates developed an outstanding reputation for excellence in research, teaching and service. He arrived at STU in 1984 to teach in the Department of Social Work where he would later serve three terms as Chair or Director when the Department became the School of Social Work.

Coates holds a BA from the University of Ottawa, an MSW from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a PhD from the University of Toronto. Before coming to STU, he taught at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute and King’s College at Western University. Reflecting an outstanding record of service, he served on Senate and every committee at the University including the Curriculum Committee, the Research Committee, and the Committee on Academic Promotion and Tenure. He also served a term as President of the Faculty Association.

He regularly taught social work courses on theory, policy, applied research, ecology, and field instruction. Many of his former students have spoken of the profound impact his teaching had on their careers with one student describing the classroom experiences as “life changing.”

As a scholar, he has co-edited four collections of essays which have been described as landmark contributions to social work discourse and practice. His book, Ecology and Social Work: Toward a New Paradigm (2003) was the first in Canada to examine the intersection of environmental and social work concerns. In addition, he has authored or co-authored more than 16 book chapters and 28 articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as co-edited ten journal volumes. He also organized and attended numerous academic conferences and has delivered guest lectures at other universities. 

His scholarship was recognized by STU with two Wallace and Margaret McCain Faculty Research Awards and two Special Merit Awards for Research. His community service included being president of Partners for Youth, a founding member of the Canadian Society for Spirituality and Social Work, and a founding member of the Greater Fredericton Social Innovation.