Computer science professor honored by alumni association

Dickson Phillips and Fred Brooks, recipients of the 2013 Faculty Service Award.

A pioneering computer science professor and a former law school dean who helped the campus navigate turbulent times at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were honored Jan. 18 with the General Alumni Association’s Faculty Service Award.

The association’s board of directors presented the awards to Fred Brooks Jr., founder of UNC’s computer science program, and Dickson Phillips Jr., former law school dean and federal appeals court judge. The award was established in 1990 and honors faculty members who have performed outstanding service for the University or the association.

Brooks, of Chapel Hill, grew up in Greenville and earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Duke University and his doctorate in applied mathematics from Harvard University. He spent his early career with IBM developing some of the company’s landmark mainframe computers. He was instrumental in advising IBM to locate a facility in the fledgling Research Triangle Park, signaling other companies that it was an important location for high-tech industries. He also encouraged developing computer hardware and software separately, helping lead to the growth of the computer software industry.

He came to UNC in 1964 to start its computer science department and was chair for 20 years. His 1975 book, “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays in Software Engineering,” is a computer science standard. In 2008, the University named its newest computer science building in his honor. Brooks, who still teaches and advises doctoral students, has received the University’s Thomas Jefferson Award, recognizing a faculty member who through personal influence and teaching, writing and scholarship exemplifies Jefferson’s ideals.

Brooks has served on the National Science Board and on the Defense Science Board. He has received dozens of awards for his advances in the field of computer science, among them the National Medal of Technology, which he and two IBM colleagues received from President Ronald Reagan for work on the IBM System/360 mainframe; and the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery, the highest honor in the computing field.

Phillips, of Chapel Hill, grew up in Laurinburg and earned his bachelor’s degree from Davidson College before serving in World War II. He earned his law degree at UNC in 1948. He spent the first part of his career in private law practice in Laurinburg and Fayetteville with future governor Terry Sanford.

In 1960, the UNC law school recruited him to the faculty and Chancellor Bill Aycock appointed him dean in 1964, a post he held for a decade that saw much unrest on campus. During the cafeteria workers’ strike in 1969, Phillips chaired a committee to decide a course of action and establish guidelines to address racial tensions on campus in general.

Phillips also served on the N.C. Courts Commission that reorganized the state judicial system and on the state ethics commission that reviewed financial interests of state employees in the executive branch and established rules for dealing with conflicts of interest. His honors from UNC include the Thomas Jefferson Award, Alumni Distinguished Professor, the Distinguished Alumnus Award and the law school’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Phillips continued teaching at the law school until 1978, when President Jimmy Carter named him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Other recent recipients of the Faculty Service Award include Joseph L. Templeton, former chemistry department chair; Joseph S. Ferrell, secretary of the faculty; Dr. H. Shelton “Shelley” Earp III, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor of pharmacology and medicine; business professor James H. “Jim” Johnson Jr.; and former law school dean and faculty chair Judith W. Wegner. A complete list of award winners can be found at

The General Alumni Association is a self-governed, nonprofit association serving alumni and friends of UNC since 1843.