SOE News

Former Dean Frank Brown to retire this summer

Photo of Frank Brown

Frank Brown

When Frank Brown arrived at Carolina in 1983 as the new dean of the School of Education, he became the first African American dean of a professional school with doctoral-level academic programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Concurrently, he also became the first African American full professor at the School of Education.

During his seven years as dean, he accomplished many more firsts, including:

  • Securing a commitment for the School’s first endowed professorship, the R. Wendell Eaves Sr. Distinguished Professorship of Educational Leadership
  • Opening the first computer lab on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, located in Peabody Hall
  • Developing the School’s first policy handbook
  • Providing funds to support moving expenses for new faculty below the rank of full professor
  • Providing a semester-long sabbatical for new non-tenured professors
  • Securing funds to provide a bonus to public school teachers who mentored the School’s student teachers
  • Establishing the School’s first newsletter, sent to 16,000 alumni
  • Creating an Alumni Association for the School
  • Developing linkages with professional associations by sponsoring receptions at annual meetings of selected national and statewide associations
  • Creating the School of Education Foundation to raise funds for the School from private sources

Other milestones of Brown’s administration were the establishment of an off-campus doctoral program in educational leadership with UNC-Charlotte and the launch of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program at the School of Education. Additionally, he established the Lyndhurst Program for students in the Master of Arts in Teaching program, funded by the Lyndhurst Foundation based in Chattanooga, Tenn. For seven years, the Lyndhurst Program provided full-tuition scholarships for 30 students each year who had earned baccalaureate degrees in the arts and sciences and wanted to become teachers.

A particularly notable event during Brown’s administration was the commemoration of North Carolina’s founding. “At the request of the Governor and the North Carolina General Assembly, this University was selected to organize a special event to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the State of North Carolina, and the University selected the School of Education to serve as host,” Brown recalls.

“The Governor moderated the event, and Princess Ann of the UK attended as a special guest,” he continued. “Alumnus Charles Kuralt narrated a 30-minute slide show produced by the School of Education’s Media Education Program.”

Apparently the program was well received. “Over the next three years, our Media Program traveled the State and presented this visual slide program to a wide audience across the state, which included every high school,” he said.  

Beyond the School of Education, Brown was influential at the University level. At the request of the Chancellor he wrote the initial proposal for a University continuing education center, which eventually became the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education. As chair of the Black Faculty/Staff Caucus and a member of the Black Cultural Center Advisory Committee, he led a successful effort to establish a free-standing Center for Black Culture at UNC-Chapel Hill. Subsequently he wrote the proposal and chaired the committee to establish the Institute for African American Research as a major component of the Black Culture Center. In addition he chaired the Provost’s committee on departmental status for the Program in African American Studies and served on the committee that established the Center for the American South.

Since stepping down from the deanship in 1990, Frank Brown has enjoyed a robust and productive academic career as the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Education. He has published more than 300 articles and 17 books focusing on school law, urban education and minority issues. He served as an administrative law jurist for a decade, assisting the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction with special education cases. He has held leadership position with numerous national and state professional associations. He has established an extensive professional network with colleagues around the world – in Berlin, Amsterdam, South Africa and Kuwait, to name a few.  

A native of Alabama, Brown moved to New York when he was a youth. He earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Alabama State University, an M.A. in chemistry from Oregon State University, an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and completed the graduate program in Advanced Administration and Management at Harvard University. He was a high school teacher of chemistry and physics as well as a principal’s assistant and coach for several years before pursuing graduate study in educational administration, policy and planning.

After completing his Ph.D., Brown joined the New York State Commission on the Quality, Cost and Financing of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as the Fleischmann Commission. For two years, he served as associate director, setting up hearings around the state and helping conduct and complete the work of the Commission.

Subsequently he joined the faculty of the City College of New York as professor and director of the Urban Institute; and later the State University of New York at Buffalo where he taught for 10 years before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill. During part of the time in Buffalo, he served as director of a residential urban undergraduate liberal arts college affiliated with SUNY-Buffalo – the Cora P. Maloney College.

Across his career, Brown has found his work with graduate students and colleagues especially rewarding. “I cherished the opportunity to work with some outstanding students and great professors,” he said. “I found that our students were committed to excellence in education and also to equality for all students.”

In retirement, Brown expects to remain active and productive. “My wife and I both like to travel, and we’re looking forward to doing some of that,” he says.   

In addition, he is currently working on three books – one on educational diversity, one on educational governance and a third on Brown V. Board of Education and the future of desegregation. If the past is an indication of the future, educators can look forward to learning from these books about concepts and ideas that will continue to lead the profession forward.

What his colleagues say

“A person who is beginning a scholarly career needs lots of kindness, much encouragement and some opportunities. Frank Brown is one of several people in my professional life who provided these resources for me. When I arrived at the UNC School of Education in the fall of 1993, my office was next door to Frank’s. We chatted on various occasions about academic writing and publications. One day, Frank invited me to write a scholarly work focusing on educating immigrant students. I appreciated the opportunity and signed a contract without reading it carefully. I thought I was agreeing to write a chapter, but later I realized it was a book contract. “I thought it was a chapter. I can’t write a book,” I told him. “Why can’t you?” he asked. “Because I have never written a book.” “Well, this will be your first one and this is how things start.” He was very convincing. So I spent that summer developing a book prospectus, which was accepted by the publisher. That book was well received and now my fifth book is on the way. This is how I started my journey.”

Xue Lan Rong
Professor of Social Studies Education
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education

“Our former Dean Frank Brown believed that this flagship School of Education should be producing the best in beginning teachers for North Carolina. Some of his notable accomplishments as dean revolved around his strong support and commitment to teacher education, his establishment of the Triangle Round Table to promote collaboration among area colleges and schools, the development of the School of Education’s Alumni Council under his watch and his passion for programs that developed the top leadership personnel (including superintendents, principals and curriculum leaders) for the public schools, especially those in North Carolina and also for the world. We will miss this colleague and friend, and we send our warm wishes and many thanks to Dean Brown for his service to our School and for his future endeavors.”

Barbara Day
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education

“I was not a classmate of Hinton James, but I was in the School of Education long enough to have worked with several wonderful deans. Frank Brown was one of them. His warm and calm personality, his expertise in the field of administration and his concern for teacher education contributed to his success in both his leadership and his teaching. I appreciate very much Frank's support of my own interests and concerns as dean and his friendship as a colleague. Even though his presence will be missed on campus as he retires, I am sure that he will continue to use his knowledge and influence to improve education at all levels.”

Sterling Hennis
Professor Emeritus
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education

What his former students say

“Frank Brown's mentorship was transformative in shaping my career. It was an honor to have worked for him and to benefit from his leadership. I remain grateful."

Elson Floyd
Washington State University, Pullman                   

“Dr. Brown’s presence, knowledge, support, confidence, collegiality and skillful manner made me feel ‘smart enough’ and worthy enough to matriculate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As an older mature adult trying to manage home, family and job, I often felt daunted by the addition of yet another large variable – graduate school – to my platter! Dr. Brown had a keen sense of ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing’ the potential in his graduate students. His reassurance of my competence and ability to represent the University in the future helped to sustain my drive to complete that which I had started. My desire to live up to his expectations of his graduate students was very compelling. I remember after my defense, Dr. Brown stated that I had tried to ‘quit on him several times.’ His insightfulness and support often paved the way for me to stay the course; for that, I am so grateful!”

Barbara Farmer
Director of Multicultural Affairs
College of Information Sciences and Technology
Penn State University