UTSA restorative and criminal justice scholar Michael Gilbert retires

04.24.17

After 26 years of service to UTSA, associate professor of criminal justice Michael J. Gilbert is retiring.

Gilbert joined the UTSA faculty in the fall of 1991 after a 20-year career in the criminal justice system.  He began his career as an inmate educator in military prisons, then worked for the Alaska Department of Corrections, Arizona Department of Corrections, and then started his own independent consulting business.  At age 44, he accepted a tenure-track position at UTSA. On May 31, 2017 he will officially retire at the age of 70.

During his time at UTSA, Gilbert has demonstrated that he has a lifelong curiosity about the human condition, particularly in relation to creating safe, just and equitable communities.  His academic career has been largely devoted to the study and advocacy of community justice and restorative justice, two relations-driven approaches to preventing crime and attaining justice that have proven to be effective alternatives to traditional criminal justice systems.

In 2012, he developed and has since served as director of the UTSA Office of Community and Restorative Justice housed within the Policy Studies Center under the College of Public Policy.

"Mike is a phenomenal colleague, a serious researcher, and the kind of teacher that makes an impression on his students," shared Policy Studies Center director Roger Enriquez.  "Whenever I run into an alum in the community, the first person they ask about is Dr. Gilbert!  It's uncanny because they almost universally say the same thing: 'Dr. G's class was tough but I learned so much!'"

Gilbert is known for his rigorous, effective teaching and for recognizing and fostering potential in students beyond what's reflected in their grades.  His professional experience has allowed him to bring real-world scenarios into the classroom, breathing life into the theories he covers in his courses.  A core concept of his teaching philosophy is helping his students become respectful, kind, thoughtful, ethical and caring leaders who believe that everyone, even the worst criminals, have the ability to change for the better if they want to.

When Gilbert joined UTSA in 1991, the criminal justice program had about 200 students and only four faculty members.  Today, the Department of Criminal Justice has roughly 900 students taught by 15 faculty, making it the largest department within the College of Public Policy.

Gilbert has played a valuable role in the Department of Criminal Justice, contributing scholarly research in his field while displaying excellence in teaching and empowering communities to resolve conflict through open dialogue.  He also has influence in public policy matters by providing a voice in the national conversations on restorative justice.

“Mike made a substantive and significant contribution to the Department of Criminal Justice and UTSA during his 26 years of service,” Interim Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research Dr. Rob Tillyer said.  “Mike’s commitment to students and the program has been exemplary and impactful.  His work in studying, developing, and promoting restorative justice practices has contributed to his national reputation as an expert in this domain and highlights his passion for the topic. Mike was a valuable member of our department, and he will be sorely missed.”

Dr. James Calder, Professor in the Department of Political Science & Geography under the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts, has known Gilbert since 1991 when he joined UTSA, and has admired him for his expertise and altruistic personality.

“I have known Mike since he came to UTSA.  We had also worked together on a consulting project shortly before that time, and from that experience I learned that he was a perfect fit for UTSA’s position on corrections and juvenile justice.  Mike has always been a dedicated teacher and corrections expert, a devoted humanitarian, and one who values the personal and professional rewards that come from developing equally committed and passionate students. We will miss his enthusiasm and his warm personality.  Good luck Mike in all your future ventures.”

Gilbert has played an instrumental part in this growth and reflects on his time at the university.

"The thing that has been remarkable about UTSA to me is that it has changed so much over the years and that change has been managed in a very constructive way.  I feel very blessed to have been able to find a professional home like UTSA that supported the kind of work that I wanted to do and provided a very good environment for me to do it in."

Gilbert goes the extra mile in his role as a faculty member and has served as a leader and mentor to his students throughout the years.

“Dr. Gilbert is one of the most well rounded professors at UTSA, and it is sad to see him go - but he deserves to relax,” said Nishita Maliek, criminal justice & criminology graduate student.  “He not only has a Ph.D., but also has practical experience which makes him so valuable to UTSA. He is extremely humble, and has always tried to help his students in any way. It was an honor to be in his class.” 

Dr. Fabian Romero, former student of Gilbert’s, who is currently a Statistician-Demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau, says that Gilbert helped him in reaching his full potential and working in a career that fulfills him.

“You keep making a difference every day touching students' lives and by promoting restorative justice.  At least with me, you really caused a big impact in my life.  Without your mentoring, I wouldn't have been so successful at UTSA, and I wouldn't be living in Washington doing what I love.”

In the coming years, Gilbert plans to focus more of his energy on the activities of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice, a non-profit organization he founded in 2013 that is on track to making an important and lasting impact on national and international justice reform.

“Mike Gilbert is one of the nation’s leading figures in the area of restorative justice, an approach to criminal justice that reflects his belief in social justice,” said Dean of the UTSA College of Public Policy and Mark G. Yudof Endowed Professor Dr. Rogelio Sáenz.  “We will miss Mike tremendously, and I am grateful for everything that he contributed to UTSA and the College of Public Policy.”

In honor of Gilbert's service to UTSA, the College of Public Policy is hosting a retirement reception at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in the Southwest Room (DB 1.124) at the Downtown Campus.  Those wishing to attend should RSVP to rhonda.johnson@utsa.edu or 210.458.2535.

By Michelle Skidmore with contributions from Jesus Chavez, KC Gonzalez and Sarah Soulek