Karl Johnson

Assistant Department Head and Associate Professor

Professor Karl Johnson was born and raised in La Crosse, Wisconsin and lived in Madison and Milwaukee (an irredeemable cheesehead) before spending three and a half years teaching in Beijing, China after completing his PhD. Karl’s dissertation focused on comparing social policies across 18 western nations, combining the western welfare state and social development literatures to understand whether poverty reduction and economic performance are incompatible. Karl and colleagues recently completed a Russell Sage Foundation grant proposal exploring the impact of COVID-19 on Great Lakes nonprofit organizations’ service delivery, and he is currently working on a project exploring the place of social class in social work education and plans to return to his original work on the social investment potential of universal welfare state policies. 

Educational Background

Ph.D., Social Welfare (2010) University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.A., Political Science (1994) University of Wisconsin-Madison

Teaching Experience

2015-Present - Assistant Professor, NMU Department of Social Work

2012-2015 - Assistant Professor, Beijing Normal University (BNU), School of Social Development and Public Policy (SSDPP)

Teaching Interests:

As a faculty member with a research-oriented PhD focused on social policy and social development, I have primarily taught macro practice, theory, methods, and policy-focused courses. My primary assigned responsibility is in the BSW program although I also teach in the MSW program. During my five years as a tenure track assistant professor at NMU, I have also had the opportunity to teach courses that are cross-listed with sociology and political science, as well as an honors program course focused on civil society, citizenship, and social rights in China.

Courses Taught: 


     Human Behavior in the Environment I and II (SW230, 331)

     Methods of Social Research I (SW/SO 208)   

     Methods of Social Research II (SW/SO 308)

     Social Welfare Policy (SW/PS 341)

     Global Approaches to Social Welfare (SW 345)

     Social Work Policy Analysis (SW 440)

     Special Topics in Social Work (SW 495)

     World Cultures: Social Sciences (HON 302)


     Social Work Research Methods (SW 541)

     Advanced Standing Research Methods (SW 549) 

     Policy Practice (SW 551)

     Policy Analysis and Advocacy (SW 651)

     Research Methods (BNU)

     Social Policy Theory and International Comparison (BNU)

     Practicum: Issues in International Development (BNU)

     Academic Writing (BNU)


My research agenda reflects several unifying beliefs. These include the indispensability of collaboration, power of interdisciplinary scholarship, value of a social welfare perspective that combines attention to practical and applied social problems with rigorous scientific inquiry, appreciation of insights to be gleaned from comparative and international perspectives, and a commitment to social and economic justice. Karl’s broad research interests include: the consequences of poverty across the lifespan; the impact of inequality, social stratification and political economy on well-being; cross-national differences in social policies for working-age families; social investment and asset development strategies; social work pedagogy; social welfare history and participatory democratic theory. 

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Johnson, K. E., & Stoner, A. M. (2021). Neoliberal managed care and the changing nature of social work practice: Exploring the relationship between authoritarianism and burnout among US social workers. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, Vol.22, No.2, pp.7-22. 

Hightower, L. and Johnson, K. (2020). “The Importance of Diversity and Social Justice in BSW Programs: Implications for Social Work Education in the U.S.” The Hong Kong Journal of Social Work, Vol.53, No.1/2, pp.47-65.

Crandall-Williams, A., Wyche, A. and Johnson, K. (2017). “Dimensions and Implications of the BSW Mock Interview Process: Applying an Emergent Approach.” The Journal of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Vol.4, pp.11-22.

Guo, Y., Tian, M., Han, K., Johnson, K. and Zhao, L. (2016). “What Determines Pension Insurance Participation in China? Triangulation and the Intertwined Relationship Among Employers, Employees and the Government.” International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol.27, Issue 18, pp.2142-60.

Johnson, K.  (2008). ‘A Review of Charles Murray’s ‘In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State’ (2006), AEI Press, Washington, D.C.  In Journal of European Social Policy, Vol.18, No.1, pp.103-4.

Other Print:

Johnson, K.  (2014). “Rediscovering Social Investment in Developmental Welfare State Policies (DWSP): Back to the Future.” (Center for Social Development Working Paper No.1402). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

Select Presentations:

“A Survey of Diversity and Social Justice Practices in BSW Programs.” International Conference on Change and Innovation for a Better World: The Future of Social Work Profession, 27-29 June 2019, Hong Kong.

“Assessing Emergent Challenges in the Development of Cross-National Collaborative Research Projects for Social Work Undergraduates.” Augsburg University International Social Work Conference, 17-18 May 2018, Minneapolis.

“Developing Employable Social Workers,” with Ann Crandell-Williams and Abigail Wyche at the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors annual conference, 14-18 March 2018, Atlanta.  

“Exploring Student Attitudes Towards Older Adults: Using the “Gauging Aging” report as a Guide,” with Patricia Cianciolo at the Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting, 16-20 November 2016, New Orleans

Karl Johnson