Philosophy professor is recognized as outstanding teacher in the humanities
By Hunter Ellis, Multimedia Managing Editor
The question “What is the good life?” has been theorized by philosophers from Aristotle to Nietzsche. But for Dr. Steven Frankel, the 2022 recipient of the Roger A. Fortin Award, the answer to the question is simple: It’s about friendship.
Frankel joined Xavier’s philosophy department in 2003, but before coming to the school, he had already taught at colleges around the world. After graduating from the University of Chicago, Frankel joined his wife in California and began teaching at California State University.
It wasn’t long before a new opportunity presented itself to Frankel.
“Out of the blue we had an opportunity open up: I got a job at the American University of Paris, and I convinced my wife to move there. We didn’t really have a plan, but we moved there,” he said.
During his four years at the American University of Paris, Frankel would win their teacher of the year award.
When Frankel noticed a vacancy at Xavier in the philosophy department, he was incredibly excited to work with and learn from former philosophy department chair Dr. Robert Rethy.
“He was one of the very best scholars and thinkers in philosophy in the country in my opinion. He ran our department almost as a graduate seminar for the faculty. Even though I was also technically a professor, I was really just his student,” Frankel said.
Upon joining the Xavier faculty, Frankel strove to utilize his experience and international relationships to give back to Xavier.
When he joined the philosophy department, he was also hired to be a professor in the newly-formed Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) honors program. Frankel would cite the PPP program’s founder — and recipient of the 2021 iteration of the Fortin Award — Dr. Paul Colella as another one of his key mentors and friends.
“Colella handed me the junior year of PPP, and he allowed me to experiment with it. I did many different iterations, and I approached it in many different ways. He always gave me a kind of leeway to be creative,” Frankel said.
Colella recognized Frankel’s impact on the program in a speech at the Fortin Award Presentation, noting that he gave the program one of its signature elements — a study abroad trip to Paris.
“Steve’s students enjoyed the full benefit of his… relationships and connections that he had forged among them university professors and journalists, as well as government and military officials,” Colella said.
In the classroom, Frankel is notorious for hosting several guest speakers and creating an amicable environment for students to approach the material in his classes.
“I see the subtext of what I’m doing in the classroom as friendship. It’s also what I’m doing on these study abroad trips. It’s all about friendship,” Frankel said.
“Friendship at the highest level is about conversation, exchange of ideas and dialogue, so I’m trying to model that inside the classroom… I really believe that that is the good life, that the best way of life is rooted in friendship,” he continued.
Frankel would go on to have a key role in the establishment of the Smith Scholars program, which integrates the humanities as a foundation for the studies of economics, finance and accounting.
“Father Hoff, who was the president before Father Graham, used to say that there’s two things you want to do in your education: You want to learn how to make a living, and you want to learn how to live. I would say the liberal arts teach you how to live well. That’s the idea behind the Smith Scholars,” Frankel said.
The Fortin Award, created in 2013 to recognize outstanding achievement of a professor in the humanities, has been won for the past three years by a professor in the philosophy department.
Frankel thinks this is a testament to the department’s approach to philosophy and the pedigree of the department’s professors as a whole.
“You have people in the department publishing at the highest levels, and (people)who are in dialogue with the top scholars. One of Xavier’s hidden gems,” he said. “It’s a really unique department in the way we approach the history of philosophy. A lot of departments have turned themselves over to analytic philosophy, problem solving or policy questions. But, Xavier still is in touch with a deeper tradition of philosophy.”
The philosophy department and international trips have allowed Frankel to continue his pursuit of the best life in friendship and dialogue.
As Frankel sits on a table in Alter Hall facing his PHIL100 students, they may be debating the meaning of “the good life” in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, it’s clear that Frankel has found just that right here at Xavier.
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