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Faculty Excellence Chris McCauley October 27, 2023


Dr. Carl McFarland (standing) with Dr. Tennant McWilliams (seated) at a reception. Photo courtesy of Dr. McFarland.

Tennant Schultz McWilliams, Ph.D., former dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and celebrated historian, died on October 23, 2023.

McWilliams served in many roles at UAB, including chair of the Department of History and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. He served as dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences from 1991-2008.

McWilliams authored numerous books during his career, including “Dixie Heretic: The Civil Rights Odyssey of Renwick C. Kennedy” which was published on September 23, 2023.

McWilliams is widely known for his groundbreaking book highlighting the history and growth of UAB titled, “New Lights in the Valley: The Emergence of UAB.” The book was published by University of Alabama Press and, according to his obituary, “was hailed as a major contribution to the study of urban universities and their transforming impact on American cities.”

Several colleagues, friends, and admirers within the College of Arts and Sciences community remember McWilliams fondly and recognize his long-term impact on UAB and the former School of Social and Behavioral Sciences:

“Tennant McWilliams expanded the History Department and transformed it for the better. As its chair and then the dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), he attracted talented, young scholars from across the United States and gave them every opportunity to excel in the classroom and in their research. He always made time to talk with them and remained accessible, even when pressed by his administrative duties. In committee meetings across campus, he enthusiastically spoke about his younger colleagues in the History Department and in SBS. He thoroughly enjoyed being a professor and administrator, facilitating a constant exchange of ideas and solid scholarship. Even in retirement, he continued to publish,” said George Liber, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, UAB Department of History.

“I remember Tennant with great fondness—a mentor, tutor, and friend. His book on the history of UAB is a gem, well worth reading if you haven’t read it before. His impact on our university, our students, and the future College of Arts and Sciences was tremendous,” said David Schwebel, Ph.D., University Professor of Psychology and Associate Vice President for Research Facilities and Infrastructure at UAB.

71LDCKvC 8L. SL1204 “Tennant McWilliams was a soft-spoken true gentleman, loyal friend, and insightful colleague. His support and leadership were essential in organizing, establishing, and negotiating the minefield of academic politics at the state level in his era, which secured for UAB what became the highly successful and nationally unique Ph.D. program in Medical Sociology. It was a well-deserved triumph,” said William C. Cockerham, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and Chair of Sociology Emeritus, UAB Department of Sociology.

“Tennant McWilliams was my friend and colleague for 48 years and served as my dean during most of my 26 years as psychology chair. He was the complete academician: an excellent teacher, a distinguished historian, and a talented and successful university administrator. He treated everyone with kindness and respect and thereby fostered an environment conducive to great productivity on the part of faculty and students. He should be remembered as one of few individuals who built the foundation for a great young university,” said Carl E. McFarland, Jr., Ph.D., Professor and Chair Emeritus, UAB Department of Psychology.

“Tennant was one of the most genuine people I have known. He was patient, kind, encouraging, and always looked for good in others. He saw the potential in others and inspired you to pursue your passions. I wouldn't be the person I am today without the guidance, encouragement, and trust given to me by Tennant McWilliams. His legacy will live on in everyone's life he touched,” said Deborah W. Littleton, Director of the College of Arts and Sciences Advising Office.

“I will never forget my first meeting with Dr. McWilliams when I was just starting my career as a young assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and he was the dean of the Social and Behavioral Sciences at UAB. He chronicled his witty and wise insights about the history and inner workings of UAB. He was always wonderfully generous with his time and his advice, and I continue to cherish both the memory and the wisdom he shared with me. Dr. McWilliams was above all, committed to the idea of higher education as a pathway for discovery, knowledge, and opportunity. His dedication to the betterment of UAB and the welfare of our students was unwavering. Dr. McWilliams’ contributions have left an incredible mark on UAB, enriching the institution's reputation for innovation, research, and academic excellence. He was a remarkable individual and a testament to living life to the fullest, leaving behind an enduring legacy of countless students, staff, and colleagues that he inspired,” said Maria Hopkins, Ph.D., Professor in the UAB Department of Psychology

“The quality of Tennant McWilliams’ leadership ensured the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences could be a productive partner in the merger that later created the College of Arts and Sciences. His leadership and wisdom endure across the College,” said Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., Dean of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences.

A memorial service is scheduled for November 1 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Hoover, Alabama. You can read McWilliams’ full obituary here.


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