Eugene Fram started teaching at RIT’s downtown campus in 1957 and has no regrets about working at the same university for 51 years.
“My vocation was my avocation,” Fram says. “Getting up to go to work was a pleasure; the students always gave me a challenge but I gave them an equal one in return.”
The J. Warren McClure Research Professor Emeritus of Marketing from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business calls himself an “outlier” who used different tools and approaches in his teaching methodology.
“I wanted students to go beyond memorization because that was easy for them to do,” Fram explains. “So I used a different model based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. It provides a listing of higher thinking levels, which are important for college students to acquire.My major signature was to give the students a statement or a situation and ask them to agree, disagree or sit in the middle. There was no right or wrong answer but the student reaction papers were limited to two to four pages, plus research sourced footnotes.”
Today they call it “critical thinking,” and it created a real buzz on campus last November when an anonymous donor—who attended “just one” of Fram’s basic marketing courses in the 1970s—committed $3 million to establish The Eugene Fram Endowed Chair in Critical Thinking at the Saunders College.
According to Fram, the donor received a low grade on one of his papers, and the professor remembers telling him, “I expected much more from you than this.”
“The donor told me he took that statement to heart whenever he was challenged in his work or his personal life. He told me recently, ‘I can still hear your words 35 years later.’ ”
So can Saunders College alumnus Paul Comstock ’71 (retail management), chairman of Paul L. Comstock Co. Wealth Advisory Services of Houston, who delivered a retirement tribute to Fram in 2008.
“Perhaps the best one-liner for excellence I received from Dr. Fram, and that I have referred to repeatedly in my work, was that there would be only three grades—A, B or F.
“ ‘Business does not pay for C’s and D’s,’ he said.” Comstock says Fram left a three-way academic imprint: To provide an experience not just transfer information, to strive for excellence without compromise, and to give service to others.
“He didn’t wait until the end of his career to give back,” Comstock says about his mentor. “He didn’t just build bridges, he built bridge builders and taught us by example.”
In agreement is Mike McCarthy ’79, ’88 (business administration, MBA) who collaborated with Fram on a number of research studies as associate professor of marketing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“Gene Fram is the Cal Ripken of the academic world,” McCarthy says. “He never had a textbook in his classes, so there was no assigned reading. It was project-based with data, discussion, presentations and making you work on things to figure them out. The ability to think critically is an important one and a skill that students have less experience with—so we met a challenge in his classroom.”
Fram also dispatched a tidal wave of retail wisdom. Reporters from across the U.S.—The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Sacramento Bee, Money Morning and CNN.com—have used Fram’s marketing expertise. He has expounded on everything from mall space, eBay, scrapbooking, Black Friday tips and Christmas shopping frenzy to corporate governance, Enron, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Rochester fast-ferry strategies.
“You’ve got to keep your mind busy,” says Fram, who moved to Los Altos, Calif., after his retirement to be closer to his two sons, Bruce and Steven, and their families.
“My life changed radically since leaving RIT,” he says. “Within six weeks, I retired and moved my ill wife, Elinore, and myself across country to be near our sons. But I’ve never left my professional life. I’ve done some minor consulting with a commercial firm and a nonprofit organization, published the third edition of Policy vs. Paper Clips (his book on driving governance and management change), walk three miles a day, and attend classes and open lectures at Stanford.
“Yes,” he says with a laugh. “I’m going back to school. I don’t want to get rusty.”
What are your memories of Eugene Fram? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to The University Magazine, University News Services, Rochester Institute of Technology, 132 Lomb Memorial Drive—Brown Hall, Rochester, NY 14623. We will publish responses in the next magazine.
In 2010, entrepreneur E. Philip Saunders committed $5 million to the E. Philip Saunders College of Business and challenged alumni and friends to raise $15 million in additional funds. More than $5 million of the additional funds has been raised. The money will be used to expand the school’s facilities by about 20,000 square feet, enhance technologies, create three endowed professorships and offer six graduate fellowships a year. To learn more about the challenge, go to saunders.rit.edu/challenge.