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Fair Named 2011 Piper Professor

May 3, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May

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Frank Fair

Frank K. Fair, who has been instrumental in starting a number of programs at Sam Houston State University that have teaching and student learning at their center, has been selected to receive the prestigious 2011 Minnie Stevens Piper Award.

Fair, a professor of philosophy, received $5,000 and a gold commemorative pin from the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation of Texas. The foundation makes 10 awards annually in recognition of superior teaching at the college level.

“Dr. Fair, even though he is extremely rigorous and demanding, has always enjoyed the adoration of his students,” said Christopher Wilson, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology and Philosophy. “Students seem to clamor to get into his classes, knowing full well that they will be tested to their limits.

“To have a person of Frank's stature in the department is a real plus for all of us,” Wilson said.

In addition to currently serving as coordinator of the philosophy program at SHSU, Fair is the managing editor of the scholarly journal, “INQUIRY: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines.”

While many individuals get their first taste of philosophy in a college course, Fair’s introduction came well before he started to college.

“I grew up as the oldest of six children—two boys and four girls—in a loving, stable home. While I was growing up we lived in Massillon, Ohio—a gritty steel town about an hour south of Cleveland,” he said.

“When I was a junior in high school, my father lost his job due to a company buy-out. After several tough months, we moved to Cincinnati. That's where I met John Sikora, a Ph. D. in philosophy. He taught English at St. Xavier High School, and he encouraged several of us to meet after school to expand our horizons by forming a reading group,” Fair said.

“One of the books we read was Dostoyevsky's ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ and it changed my life. I had intended to study physics as the way to get the most fundamental understanding of things, but then I came across the statement ‘If God is dead, then everything is lawful.’

“I was quite convinced the statement was false, but I did not know how to show that it was,” Fair said. “It turned out that philosophy was the name of the discipline that studies such matters, and I realized that I had questions that physics could not answer. So I went to Xavier University in Cincinnati where I majored in philosophy and classics.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Xavier, he went on to earn his master’s in philosophy from Boston College and his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Georgia.

“When I finished my doctorate in 1971, I was offered a job at Sam Houston State University,” he said. He has been at the university since that time.

Fair is one of the few SHSU faculty members to receive two or more of the three excellence awards given by the university each year. He won the Excellence in Teaching award in 1989 and the Excellence in Service award in 1992. He also received a service award from the SHSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2009.

While at SHSU, Fair has either founded or was involved in the establishment of the annual Conference on Teaching, sponsored by the SHSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the annual Constitution Day celebration; the Honors Program; the Across-the-University Writing Program; and the Academic Challenge Program, which brings teams from Texas high schools to SHSU to compete in quiz bowls twice a year.

In addition to his work in higher education, Fair has been actively engaged in promoting philosophy and critical thinking skills to students in primary and secondary schools. Last summer he worked to obtain funding from the Powell Foundation in Houston for the “Socrates in Schools” project at Mance Park Middle School in Huntsville. The project is based on a study in Scotland that showed large, durable increases in students’ cognitive abilities resulting from one-hour-per-week structured conversations about topics with a philosophical dimension.

Fair also served as the assistant coach of the Huntsville High School Academic Challenge Team from 1989 to 2003.

For the students in his classes at SHSU, Fair says he tries to encourage a strong philosophical attitude within them.

“I want them to develop a curiosity which wonders about the world and about people—what makes them tick,” he said. “I also want them to have a desire to have good reasons for the important things they believe and a humility that leads to open-mindedness where they listen seriously to those with whom they disagree.

“In addition, I hope my students come away with a willingness to challenge the ‘conventional wisdom’ and a determination to see the big picture—to make the things they believe fit together in some kind of harmonious whole,” he said.

In addition to his classroom and administrative duties, Fair has served on numerous SHSU committees and councils and holds memberships in several professional societies.

His off-campus community service has included being a member of the Huntsville City Charter Revision Committee; a board member of the Huntsville Public Library; and a youth sports coach in baseball, softball, soccer and basketball. He was also part of the leadership of Boy Scout Troop 114, and he has served as a communion minister at St. Thomas Catholic Church, taking communion once a month to nursing home residents.

He and his wife, Janet, a counselor in the SHSU Student Advising and Mentoring Center, are the parents of two grown children.

Sam Houston State University’s previous Piper Professors include Hazel Floyd, education (1961); George Killinger, sociology (1968); Mary Frances Park, education (1981); Fisher Tull, music (1984); Ralph Pease, English (1987); Witold Lukaszewski, political science (1992); Rolando V. del Carmen, criminal justice (1998); Caroline Crimm, history (2004); Vic Sower, management (2005); and James Olson (2006).

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