For Phillip Russell, June 5 marked the end of a long career at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. 

Born and raised in Fort Smith, Russell, 60, retired as a professor of history at UAFS that day. Russell said he was hired in 2003 as associate dean of the College of Education after an unexpected phone call from Sandi Sanders, the UAFS provost and chief academic officer at the time. Sanders asked him if he would be interested in coming to Fort Smith to build the College of Education, now called the School of Education. 

"So I called her back of course, and I said, 'Oh, sure, I'll come up and talk,'" Russell said. "I thought we were just going to talk, and so I come up to visit with she, and, at that time, the chancellor's name was Joel Stubblefield. I came up to visit them in spring of '03, and before I left they had already hired me. They just hired me on the spot." 

Before UAFS, Russell had worked in education for some time. Russell's wife, Rosilee, said his first experience teaching was as a student teacher at Ramsey Junior High School during the spring of 1979. His first teaching job was at Dover High School, where he taught social studies. In 1989, Russell got an administration job, a director of field experience position, at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and after 10 years, he became the associate dean for the College of Education at Henderson State University. 

When asked what qualities Russell possessed that inspired her to reach out to him, Sanders pointed to his experience. 

"He was, I believe, at Henderson State University, and had been very involved in the accreditation process for accreditation for their school of education, and his experience in teaching, and he taught for a number of years," Sanders said. "... And then, once we met him, we were also impressed with his caring about the students, his teaching ability, his wide expanse of knowledge, and just the fact that he was a genuine person."

Russell said he has an associate of arts degree from UAFS when it was called Westark Community College and a bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from Arkansas Tech University. He also has a master of arts degree in history and a doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. 

Coming to Fort Smith

After he left Henderson State University, Russell said a small group of people, including him, developed the UAFS College of Education. The college dean then was the late Roland Smith. Russell said degree programs for the students in education had to be written, although a small number of them were there when he arrived. Rosilee Russell said Russell and Smith wrote a variety of programs, such as English, social studies, Spanish and middle childhood, so students could go to UAFS to become teachers in these areas and others. 

These programs also had to be passed through the Arkansas Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education, Russell said. 

"And then we had to get accreditation for the entire program through the national accrediting body, which is NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) ... ," Russell said. "We had to get the program accredited because in Arkansas, you could not have a college of education unless you were accredited by that organization, so it was life or death at that point for that program."

Russell said he and the group successfully got accreditation in 2005. He called this, as well as getting the programs approved through the state, a historic event. 

"See, they'd never been accredited before in teacher education," Russell said. "They'd never had it, so it was a first ever accreditation, and that process was different from schools that were reapplying for accreditation that already had it. It was a more involved process."

Rosilee Russell said this accreditation meant students could graduate from UAFS with a degree in education and obtain a teaching license to begin teaching in Arkansas and beyond. Russell was also instrumental in formalizing the College of Education's assessment program and coordinating all faculty searches. 

In 2011, Russell was approached by then-UAFS Provost Ray Wallace, to found and direct the UAFS Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. This center, according to Russell, was one for professional development for UAFS faculty that provided them with faculty development opportunities that would help them get new ideas about teaching, research and other topics. 

"A lot of what I did was I went out and I got faculty members there, sometimes from the outside, but oftentimes faculty members there at the college, to present to other faculty members what they were doing," Russell said. "... It was a platform for sharing."

After he left teacher education in 2011, Russell said he also began teaching Arkansas history at UAFS. He stepped down from the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning position in 2014. Wallace left UAFS to become the chancellor of Indiana University Southeast, with the center being phased out after he left. At that point, Russell began teaching full time.  


Russell said he retired from UAFS because he believes 60, his age, is a good, round number. He was also ready for new challenges and projects. 

"And so, I'm looking forward to other projects," Russell said. "I can't tell you what they are because I don't know yet, but I can assure you they'll have something to do with the education of young people. I just feel like that is my calling in this life." 

In a statement, UAFS Chancellor Paul Beran said he appreciates Russell's service to the university, particularly in his assistance in helping complete the first round of accreditation for the College of Education. 

"Additionally, his work in faculty development and his commitment to students has been top-notch," Beran said. "I have talked to several students who have told me he is the best history professor they’ve ever had, and they have appreciated his knowledge of Arkansas history. We at UAFS wish him all the best in his future endeavors and thank him for his work.”

Wallace shared his own statement about Russell, saying he thoroughly enjoyed working with him. 

"He brought a great deal of experience to the table and guided many disciplines to reach bigger and better goals during his illustrious career in higher education," Wallace said. "I wish him well in his much-deserved retirement, but knowing Phillip as I do, he will not 'retire' at all."