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Profile in Excellence: Developing Countless Minds

January 22, 2008

To more than 23,000 students at the University of Memphis, Dr. Ralph Faudree, '61, is known as Provost. To mathematicians worldwide, Faudree is a leading scholar in graph theory. Through the years, his work has influenced countless inquisitive minds. To Faudree, the development of each one is rewarding.

A native of Southeast Oklahoma, Faudree studied mathematics and physics at OBU, earning a bachelor's degree in 1961. He spent many hours in classes in Thurmond Hall. He recalls the careful instruction of many faculty, including his mentor, OBU mathematics professor Eugene Lucas, along with physics professor Beryl Clotfelter and chemistry professor William Neptune.

"I received excellent instruction, professional advising and, probably even more importantly, caring and individual attention from all of my professors in that unit," he said. "I entered the program scared to death and left feeling that I could be successful."

While at OBU, he met his future wife, Pat Newson. Pat, a 1962 graduate, taught English in high school and university classes before working in advertising and public relations. The Faudrees have been married for 45 years, and have two daughters, Paja and Jill.

Faudree followed his studies on Bison Hill with a master's and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from Purdue University in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He was an instructor at the University of California at Berkeley, and then an assistant professor at the University of Illinois before becoming an associate professor at what was then called Memphis State University in 1971.

In 1976, Faudree became professor of mathematics at the university. During his tenure, he has served as chair of the department of mathematical sciences, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and interim president. He has received numerous awards related to his administration and research. Since 2001, he has served as the chief academic officer, implementing academic policies and overseeing the university's teaching, research and service missions. Faudree relishes the opportunity to see each student and faculty member develop.

"The most rewarding experience at a university has been being involved in the incredible development of a student over a period of four or five years," Faudree said. "To see a young person mature, gain expertise and assume responsibility is a high that is difficult to match."

As an academician, Faudree specializes in graphical Ramsey theory and Hamiltonian theory of graphs. He has published more than 150 mathematical papers on graph theories with great thinkers such as Paul Erdós, a world-renowed Hungarian mathematician who also was Faudree's personal friend. Since Erdós's death, Faudree has continued the work they began together.

Faudree's work on graph theory has taken him around the world as a visiting professor or researcher in Hungary, Scotland, The Netherlands, France and Singapore. He said that through the years, he and his wife "entertained and hosted in our house -- as described by my daughters -- a large number of strange mathematical guests from all over the world."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.