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Last updated: May 31. 2013 10:22PM - 189 Views
D.G. Martin



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By dying on October 12, the 219th anniversary of the university’s founding,


UNC President Emeritus William Friday once again turned a seeming defeat


into a victory.


It was, some were saying, just like Presidents Jefferson and Adams, dying


on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the nation’s


founding.


Friday’s death leaves the state with a vacancy in the role he played as the


state’s public elder who was wise and energetic, our trusted prophet and


pastor.


Friday did not become our state’s prophet by divine ordination. He earned


it through hard years of bruising struggles in the public arena. He did not


always win, but he had an amazing ability to do two things: (1) turn


apparent defeats into important and lasting victories, and (2) after even


the bitterest battle, reach out and turn his opponents into friends and


allies in common endeavors.


Here are some examples:


1. The 1961 crackdown on athletics. Some hard-core athletic fans may not


have forgiven Friday for cancelling the Dixie Classic basketball tournament


after several N.C. State players were implicated in a point-shaving


scandal. Friday’s controversial decision signaled that no matter how


popular and profitable university athletics may be, they cannot be allowed


to corrupt or supplant the university’s mission of education and service.


Friday’s action also gave notice of his decisiveness and resolve.


2. The Speaker Ban Law of 1963. For all his friendships and political


savvy, Friday was unable to stop the General Assembly from enacting the law


that prohibited “known members” of the Communist Party from speaking on


university campuses. Nor was he able to persuade the state’s leadership to


make a quick turnaround. But, in the end, his behind-the-scenes maneuvering


helped bring down the law, leaving a widespread consensus on the value of


free speech.


3. The 1971 merger of all the state’s public colleges and universities into


the University of North Carolina. People forget that bringing campuses into


one state agency was not Friday’s idea. In fact, he and his board fought


against it. But when the decision was made, Friday demanded excellence and


provided the strong leadership that made our multi-campus state university


the envy of every state in the union. His actions in taking charge after


the restructuring showed an effective administrative style. According to


his biographer, William Link, “That style embodied the qualities of


Friday’s personality: gregariousness and sensitivity, idealism and


cold-hearted efficiency, and unassuming accessibility and constant


communication with the state and national power structure. Friday had an


innate interest in people and an inherent ability to relate to them.”


4. The establishment of a medical school at East Carolina University.


Friday initially fought a new medical school there, but when he recognized


its inevitability, according to Link, he determined to make it “as fine a


school as you can make it.” While pushing for adequate funding for ECU’s


medical school, he used the legislature’s enhanced attention to health


education to fund expansion of the Chapel Hill medical school and the


establishment of “the most ambitious AHEC (Area Health and Education


Centers) program in the nation.” Link writes that the ECU controversy


demonstrated “Friday’s ability to adapt to new circumstances.”


5. The long controversy with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and


Welfare over desegregation. Almost forgotten today, Link writes, “Managing


the desegregation controversy became the greatest challenge of Bill


Friday’s leadership and certainly one of the gravest tests the University


of North Carolina had encountered in its two centuries of existence.”


Once again, Friday’s resiliency in responding to what could be


characterized as a series of defeats, resulted in strengthening the


university and solidifying his reputation for steady leadership.


William Friday’s victories are too numerous to mention. But it is his


powerful example of turning defeats into lasting achievements that will


always inspire me.


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Fridays at 9:30


p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior


programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/ A grant from the


North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North


Carolina Bookwatch.





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