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Johnson C. Smith University mourns the death of longtime professor

Charlotte, N.C. (June 5, 2012) – Johnson C. Smith University will hold a memorial service on June 9 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jane A. Smith Memorial Chapel on campus in honor of Dr. Joseph Fail, the university’s associate professor of biology, who passed away on May 30.

The service will be a time for the JCSU community to join family and friends to celebrate the life of Dr. Fail by presenting personal reflections and memories. Those who are interested in speaking briefly should contact the Office of Human Resources at Each person will be allowed approximately two minutes to speak. 

Fail joined the university in 1989 to begin a distinguished career as a scholar and researcher. From 2000 to 2008, he served as mentor and campus director with Strategies for Ecology Education, Development and Sustainability (SEEDS), which is part of the Ecological Society of America. Through these organizations, he sought to increase minority participation in ecology.

During his 23 years at Johnson C. Smith, Fail mentored students and led field trips to Haiti, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, California and Baltimore. He also assisted in selecting SEEDS Research Fellows.  In 2006, he was selected as a Sabbatical Scholar for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at Duke University.

Before beginning his career in higher education, Fail served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Lwakuni, Japan and Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. He was a 3rd pilot and navigator in Barbers Point, Hawaii from 1970-1971. He joined the squadron in Iwakuni, Japan then deployed for several weeks to Vietnam.

His students remember him for his teaching excellence in ecology, evolution, biology and botany. Recent graduate Rolanda-Sue Johnson said Fail was “the hardest biology teacher” who was “always willing to help.” She added that “he also wanted his students to succeed so he always made sure that he exposed us to the right people and provided us with many opportunities within our major.”

Fail earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Troy State College, a Master of Science at the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. at the University of Georgia. His works appeared in several  scholarly publications and he was author of a textbook titled A Primer of Biology – A textbook for elementary and junior high school students and teachers.

Fail designed an evolution class at Johnson C. Smith University. “I don't want to make a big deal of evolution,” Fail once said. “I just want it to be part of the general curriculum, nothing special. Think of it. It is a part of biology and needs to be taught.”

Fail will be buried at his family farm in Elberton, Ga. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorials be made to the following:

ESA SEEDS program


1990 M Street NW
Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036

(check made out to ESA with SEEDS in memo)

Joseph's Exchange, offering Charlotte residents the opportunity to help build a self-sustaining community in Haiti that will at once provide shelter and safety, while serving as a training center that leads its residents to productive independence.

Founded in 1867, Johnson C. Smith University is the premier independent urban liberal arts university located in the heart of Charlotte, N.C. It offers a progressive liberal arts curriculum with 23 fields of study to more than 1,600 students. The University prepares students for success through excellent academic programs with a focus on servant leadership, civic engagement and global responsibility.          



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