Willard R. Sparks Eminent Faculty Award


By Curt Guenther

Dr. Thomas FaganDr. Thomas Fagan, regarded as a founding father and foremost historian of school psychology, received the 2011 Willard R. Sparks Eminent Faculty Award from the University of Memphis. The professor of psychology received the $20,000 award during the University’s annual Faculty Convocation April 8 at the Michael D. Rose Theatre. The award recognizes exceptional and sustained contributions to scholarly-creative achievement, for teaching and service, and for bringing recognition to the University.

“When I came to work on March 3 and there was a message on my phone to call the provost’s office, my first thought was, ‘Am I in some kind of trouble?’” Fagan said. “I wondered what kind of politically incorrect language I may have used in class. When I called back, I was even more worried when he asked if I believed in the First Amendment.  I said, ‘Of course I believe in free speech.’ He said, ‘Good, I need you to come to Convocation and deliver one.’ It was overwhelming to learn that I would be the 2011 recipient of the Willard R. Sparks Award. In all my years here, had anyone suggested I would be in this position, I would have said that I was a thinker, and a doer, but this was for dreamers.”

During his career, Fagan has certainly been a dreamer, a thinker and a doer, as a colleague points out.

“Tom has virtually single-handedly researched and written the history of an entire field – school psychology. Few, if any, know as much as he does about school psychology. I believe that Professor Fagan has the highest name recognition and universal respect compared to all school psychologists in the United States.”

Fagan, whose son Shannon is a nationally recognized photographer, said he has enjoyed his journey at the U of M.

“Now age 68, hardly a day goes by when I don’t reflect back on my life,” he said. “I’m a regular churchgoer, but the Sparks Award is as close to sainthood as I’ll ever get.

“I realize that I am in the October of my years and the December of my career. Later this year the University will stand proud in its centennial celebrations. Not long after that, I, and no doubt several other senior members of the University community, will drift into the history of this fine institution. It will be the less senior members of the University community, the faculty, administration and staff, who will be called upon to continue as the foundation for its future. Your teaching, your service, your research; your thinking, your doing, and even your dreaming will continue our legacy of excellence that will be recognized throughout the Mid-South and by institutions of higher learning across our land. I’ll be watching and I’ll be proud.”

Fagan began his career at the University in 1976, when he joined the faculty as an associate professor of psychology. He was promoted to full professor in 1980.

He has acted as a consultant to a number of school systems and colleges, including the College of Santa Fe, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Ohio State University, the Louisiana State Department of Education and municipal school systems in cities throughout Illinois.

Fagan has published widely, including six books and hundreds of monographs and journal articles. He has also served in several editorial capacities with professional newsletters and journals. He was editor of Communiqué, the official newsletter of the National Association of School Psychologists from 1981-87, and he has been consulting editor for History of Psychology.

Fagan is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Award for Exceptional Service to the Profession of School Psychology from NASP. Other professional organizations that have recognized him are the Illinois School Psychologists Association, the Tennessee Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association.