By Curt Guenther
Dr. Thomas Fagan
Dr. 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.
Fagan accepts his award from President Shirley Raines.
“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
“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
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.
Faculty Convocation included the annual processional from the Art Museum to Rose Theatre.
Faculty senate president Dr. Wade Jackson, at left, had the honor of carrying the
mace. (Photo by Rhonda Cosentino)
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.