June 06, 2022

Goodbye to our colleague, Frank Cunningham

The SFU Urban Studies Program is sad to learn of the recent passing of our long-time colleague, adjunct professor Frank Cunningham.

Urban Studies professor and acting FASS dean Peter V. Hall recently reflected on his experience working with Frank to co-organize a series of public discussions in New Westminster.

"I had the profound pleasure of working with Frank to initiate the Urban Challenges Forum, a partnership between SFU Urban Studies, Douglas College and the City of New Westminster. Since 2017 we have hosted close to 20 forums, addressing a wide variety of topics that all address social justice in the city in one way or another. Numerous SFU colleagues have presented in these Forums, alongside colleagues from Douglas College and other local tertiary institutions, City government, and civil society groups. Just as Frank would have it, we got to know each other and share ideas, we got to engage audiences of students, citizens and officials that on some occasions reached into the hundreds. None of this would have been possible without Frank's passion and generosity to share an idea of civic engagement that he had pioneered in Toronto with the Cities Centre. None of this would have been possible if Frank, post-retirement, had not actively reached out to colleagues in philosophy, urban studies, geography and more, at SFU and Douglas College."

Meg Holden, professor of Urban Studies and of Resources and Environmental Management, had collaborated with Frank on a variety of projects, and had this to say about him in a 2021 collection of his essays:

"Rather than fixate on the purported need for distinctions between knowledge and action, Frank demonstrates that his own life of ideas has been lived not only and not primarily within the safe  confines  of  a  university  philosophy  department.  Throughout  his  storied  career,  Frank  campaigned  with  the  Communist  Party  of  Canada,  worked  to  bridge  the  divide  among  social  scientists and between francophone and anglophone thinkers, was part of the movement against Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile and for peace in countries suffering from violent ethno-cultural  conflicts.  He  introduced  philosophy  into  the  high  school  curriculum  in  Ontario,  and  fought for citizen engagement in planning decisions. He worked to bring people with experiences of poverty and discrimination that had kept them away from higher education into the University of Toronto, and went into marginalized communities to bring higher education to them; and he included Indigenous thought into the canon called Canadian philosophy. I am personally grateful to Frank for all of this thought-work that has made the Canadian academy an action-institution that I can take greater pride in being a part of, than would have otherwise been possible. And I am grateful for the somewhat heretical, anti-foundational inspiration, confidence in uncertainty and syllabus-building  tips  that  Frank  gave  me  to  start  a  graduate  seminar  in  Urban  Ethics  and  Philosophy at Simon Fraser University when he joined us in 2014."

Canadian philosopher Charles Mills said this about Frank in regard to his 2021 book:

"Frank can look back on a full life of political activism and theoretical interventions aimed at bringing about a better world. This valuable collection of essays, written originally over many years, shows the continuing relevance  of  his  work,  in  a  conversation  that  is  not  at  all  over,  but  ongoing. I am delighted to have known him for nearly half a century, and look forward to the next half-century’s output."

- See Coburn, E., Cunningham, F., Glasbeek, H., Holden, M., Mills, C., Rein, S. 2022. Ideas in Context : a conversation with Frank Cunningham. Socialist Studies/Etudes socialistes 16(1) https://socialiststudies.com/index.php/sss/article/view/27334/20225

More can be learned about Frank Cunningham's life and work on his website.

The obituary for Frank that appeared in the Globe and Mail can be read here.