Frank Arthur Cunningham (5 August 1940 – 4 February 2022) was a white Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Toronto and the 6th Principal of Innis College. His research and activism focused on issues related to democracy, equity, and urban politics. He was also instrumental in establishing philosophy courses in the Ontario Secondary School curriculum.
Early Life and Education
Prof. Cunningham was born to a white, middle-class Republican family in Evanston, Illinois. Growing up in a small town with little cultural and racial diversity, he was frequently exposed to the racist opinions held by the community. In 1958, Prof. Cunningham left home to attend Indiana University where he began to challenge the racist stereotypes he learned from his upbringing. He received his B.A in 1962 and continued on to the University of Chicago where he received his M.A. in 1965. During his graduate studies, he fell in with a group of Jewish students who furthered his awareness of the prejudice faced by racialized people which led him to begin embracing a Marxist perspective. Shortly after, Prof. Cunningham moved to Toronto with his first wife to pursue his doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. At this time, he was introduced to the work of C. B. Macpherson, a leading political theorist at the University’s Department of Political Economy. Prof. Cunningham then established a relationship with C. B. Macpherson who provided counselling and support throughout his studies. The views of C. B. Macpherson went on to heavily influence Prof. Cunningham and his work throughout the rest of his career. In 1970, Prof. Cunningham completed his Ph.D. in Systematic Philosophy for his dissertation Objectivity in Social Science. He remained in Toronto and received his Canadian citizenship in 1973.
While working on his doctorate, Prof. Cunningham was hired as a lecturer by the University of Toronto Department of Philosophy in 1967. He continued to teach at the Department, becoming an Assistant Professor (1970), Associate Professor (1974), and Professor in (1986). Following his tenue, he was cross appointed to the Department of Political Science (2000), the University’s Cities Centre (2007), and as an Associate Instructor of History and Philosophy of Education at OISE (2007). Prof. Cunningham has also held several visiting positions internationally at the University of Amsterdam (1990), Lanzhou University (1991), Ritsumeikan University (1994, 1997, 2007), and the University of Rome (1999). In 2009, he retired to Professor Emeritus status and remained active in the academic community. Post-retirement, Prof. Cunningham became an Adjunct Professor at the Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies Program.
Much of his research and courses focused on social and political philosophy, with a later focus on urban philosophy, including topics such as democratic theory, Marxism, environmental philosophy, feminist philosophy, racism, and urban politics. Prof. Cunningham was known as a dedicated, thoughtful, and inspiring teacher who challenged students to envision a more democratic and egalitarian future.
University of Toronto
In addition to teaching, Prof. Cunningham was an active participant in the University of Toronto community where he attempted to bring about social change at the university and beyond. During his early career he was a founding member of the University’s Faculty Reform Caucus and Faculty Committee on Vietnam. He also held several administrative positions, including Associate Chair (1977 – 1978), Chair (1982 – 1988) and Acting Chair (1991 – 1992) of the Department of Philosophy; Principal of Innis College (2000 – 2005); and Interim Director for the Centre of Ethics (2011). As Principal of Innis College, he established a column in the Innis College Herald and helped develop the University of Toronto-Regent Park Learning Exchange Program which provided free, non-credit courses for adults on a wide range of interdisciplinary topics to small classes of adult residents of Regent Park. He also contributed to the establishment of the University’s Bioethics program as well as its Cities Centre, which operated from 2007 to 2013. Additionally, Prof. Cunningham has served on more than 80 University committees including the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) Evaluation Committee (1975), the Provost’s Committee on Teaching Assistant Workloads (1991 – 1992).
Activism and Professional Activities
As a political activist, Prof. Cunningham was committed to advancing equity, social justice, and democratic socialism. He became increasingly involved in numerous anti-racist, anti-imperialist, feminist, and socialist movements beginning in the mid ‘60s. In 1964, he campaigned for the presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, who Prof. Cunningham believed was willing to start a nuclear war. He also protested the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, the latter of which led to his arrest. Around the later 2000s, he also began to get involved with neighborhood-level politics within his local communities. He became a Board Member of the Annex Resident’s Association (2007 – 2013) and the Chair of its Planning and Zoning Committee (2009 – 2013). After moving to the West End of Vancouver in 2013, he also cofounded the neighborhood association Denman and West Neighbours (DAWN) to establish communication with Vancouver’s City Council and Park Board to ensure local residents could have input on upcoming changes to their community.
Being passionate about education and philosophy, Prof. Cunningham helped lead the campaign to introduce philosophy courses to Ontario’s secondary school curriculum. Prior to 1986, he co-organized the Secondary School Philosophy Committee which led to the creation of the Ontario Secondary School Philosophy Project. Prof. Cunningham was also a founding member of the Ontario Philosophy Teachers’ Association which helps further the development of the curriculum. Similarly, he was Vice-President (1996 – 1997) and President (1997 – 1998) of the Canadian Philosophical Association.
Research and Publications
Prof. Cunningham is the author of 7 books and many more publications in academic journals and public press. His early works include Objectivity in Social Science (1973), his thesis re-worked for a broader audience, and Understanding Marxism: A Canadian Introduction (1977) which became widely used in post-secondary institutions across Canada. Shortly after, his research became focused on democratic theory and led to the publication of Democratic Theory and Socialism (1987), The Real World of Democracy Revisited and Other Essays on Socialism and Democracy (1994), and Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002). In 2019, he published The Political Thought of C. B. Macpherson: Contemporary Applications in which Prof. Cunningham describes and analyzes Macpherson’s core theories and applies them to contemporary issues including neoliberalism, racism, intellectual property, globalization, and urban challenges. In his final book, Ideas in Context: Essays in Social & Political Theory (2020), Cunningham provides a selection of essays together with a brief narrative on the personal and political contexts in which they were written.
Honours and Awards
Prof. Cunningham has been recognized for his work with numerous fellowships and awards. Throughout his post-secondary studies, he was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1961 – 1962), Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1962 – 1963), School of Letters Fellowship (1964 – 1965), and a Mary Beatty Fellowship (1965 – 1966). He was a Faculty Teaching Fellow at the University of Toronto from 1974 – 1975, and he later became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1995 and a Senior Fellow at Massey College in 1999. Prof. Cunningham was also the recipient of a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002) and a U of T SAC/APUS Undergraduate Teaching Award (2005).
Prof. Cunningham was the eldest of three children born to Art and Mary (née Gaskins) Cunningham. His siblings were Candice and Larry. He met his first wife, feminist and fellow student Charnie Guettel, during his studies at Indiana University. Together, they moved to Toronto in 1965 and gave birth to a son, Will, in 1967. Five years later in 1972, he married Maryka Omatsu, who eventually became the first woman of East Asian descent to be appointed a Judge in Canada in 1993. The couple remained together for 50 years until his death.
Prof. Cunningham died in Vancouver at the age of 81 on February 4, 2022.