UAH File Photo
Dr. Frank Franz, fifth and longest-serving president of the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), who instituted the creation of a campus strategic plan, oversaw the expansion of campus facilities, and developed the research and academic prowess of the UAH, died Aug. 4 after a long illness.
Dr. Franz served UAH, part of the University of Alabama system, for nearly 16 years after his appointment in 1991, taking over as campus president from the interim president and business leader of Huntsville, Joseph Moquin. Dr. Franz retired on June 30, 2007.
“It has been a great privilege to work with the students, faculty, staff, administration, and friends of UAH in building an excellent institution that serves both the people of Alabama and our expanded constituencies,” Dr. Franz said when he announced his retirement to the University of Alabama system’s board of trustees.
While President, Dr. Franz oversaw an academic restructuring that strengthened core academic programs and changed UAH’s academic calendar to a semester-based system. He led many construction projects on campus that followed the campus strategic plan he developed and created a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
Under his leadership, two new residence halls on the north end of campus added rooms to accommodate 547 students, and one was named in his honor. The campus added Olin B. King Technology Hall, Shelbie King Hall, a library extension, an extension of the university dining area, and the university fitness center.
When Dr. Franz retired, construction of the 200,000 square foot Shelby Center for Science and Technology was nearing completion, and five fraternity and sorority houses were under construction. Construction had begun on an on-campus baseball, softball, and soccer complex, and planning was underway for the campus’ three-story intermodal parking lot.
Additionally, Dr. Franz has implemented programs and policies to improve student recruitment, retention, and success; enhanced the university’s performance and stature in externally funded research; and improved the quality of academic life at UAH.
“He was a very good listener, and students and faculty loved him,” said his wife Judy, professor emeritus of physics at UAH and former executive director of the American Physical Society in College Park, Maryland. .
Dr. Franz served as chairman of the Council of Presidents of Alabama Colleges and Universities from 1995 to 1997.
“Frank was a great guy, and he and Judy were both so great for college,” said Dr. Ron Greenwood, who served as UAH’s vice president for research from 1998 to 2008 and was a professor of trade.
“Frank had a unique leadership style and I think that served him really well in the transition,” Dr. Greenwood said. “In every situation, he didn’t want a loser. He wanted everyone to win, and in a university, that’s very important. He could solve a problem and no one felt like they lost.
Dr. Franz had a strong vision for UAH as being the best possible academic and as a strong research institution, Dr. Greenwood said.
“I think what Frank recognized coming here was that he wanted the university to be more conventional. He wanted to provide students with a traditional academic experience. So there would be dormitories, places to socialize, and it would become a destination. He was trying to create a student experience closer to what a traditional university would be like.
Similarly, Dr. Franz recognized the unique research opportunities provided by UAH’s location near Redstone Arsenal.
“He worked to create a very large research program,” Dr. Greenwood said. “The thing he did to help us establish that, and something that was a real boon to the campus, was to create the National Space Science Technology Center.”
Located on the UAH campus, the center pairs NASA, the National Weather Service, and other government researchers with scholars and students in a unique way.
“He was very supportive of it and it was a very different relationship between the government and the university, and a very positive model,” Dr Greenwood said.
Originally from Philadelphia, Dr. Franz was a researcher in experimental atomic physics who also held the rank of professor of physics at UAH.
Prior to being named UAH President, Dr. Franz served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research at West Virginia University in Morgantown from 1985 to 1991. From 1967 to 1985, he was at Indiana University in Bloomington, first as a professor of physics and later as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was appointed Dean of Faculties in 1977.
Dr. Franz earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and later earned master’s and doctorate degrees in physics from the University of Illinois. He has received fellowships from the American Physical Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Science Foundation and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.
He is survived by his wife and son Eric, who is an attorney in Atlanta.