15 November 2023 • AlumsFacultySTEM Heaton/Dr. Franks Celebrated By Colin Spencer '19

New endowed professorship enhances Religious Studies curriculum and study of human rights, genocide and social justice.

In 1999, Dr. Edward Franks ’72 established the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium. For nearly 25 years, the symposium has made the study of human rights, genocide and social justice a core component of religious studies at HWS. With a recently established endowed professorship, Dr. Franks has cemented the subject in the curriculum.

In October, Dr. Franks joined faculty, friends, staff and members of the Heaton family to celebrate the endowment of the Dr. Richard L. “Doc” Heaton, Edward P. Franks, M.D. Professor of Human Rights, Genocide and Social Justice during a dinner and reception at the home of President Mark D. Gearan and Mary Herlihy Gearan. 

Established in 2021 by Dr. Franks in memory of his former mentor, the late Professor of Religious Studies Richard L. Heaton P’86, the endowment ensures that the study of human rights, genocide and social justice are a permanent part of the Religious Studies curriculum. The fund also supports the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium.

As the first faculty member to receive the professorship, Instructor of Religious Studies Blaize Gervais is tasked with teaching a full complement of courses in human rights, genocide and social justice, as well as other standard courses in the department. Gervais will also work with students to coordinate and publicize the Symposium and serve as a catalyst for securing additional funding for speakers, workshops, internships and other events and activities.

“Faculty-student relationships offer some of the most life-changing experiences at the Colleges, as Doc Heaton and Ed exemplify so well,” said President Gearan at the dinner. “As we all know, Doc Heaton was a professor, mentor and friend to many, many HWS alums, and it’s gifts like this that demonstrate the power and reach of our faculty’s impact well beyond the classroom.” 

Dr. Franks, who maintained a close relationship with his mentor long after graduation, relied on Heaton’s advice when creating the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium.

As Dr. Franks said in 2021 when endowing the professorship, the courses he took with Heaton “awakened many of us and provided a scaffolding to better understand our responsibility to and interactions with the greater society as a whole…. My time at the Colleges made me more interested in contributing to the greater good.”

Heaton was a professor of Religious Studies from 1961 to 1994 and served as department chair during the 1970s and 1980s. He taught and co-directed the popular Western Civilization courses, as well as others including “Prophetic Religions” focused on human rights. He was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2003.

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Dr. Franks earned a B.S. in chemistry at HWS, then studied computer science and related courses in graduate school before earning a medical degree at Albany Medical College. He had a private ophthalmic practice in Upstate New York from 1987 until his retirement in 2016. Among his professional achievements was serving as a diplomat for both the American Board of Ophthalmology and the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Top: Dr. Edward Franks ’72 and Blaize Gervais, who serves as the Dr. Richard L. “Doc” Heaton, Edward P. Franks, M.D. Professor of Human Rights, Genocide and Social Justice, join with the Heaton family for a photo at the President’s House.