Bill Friday’s legacy lasts a year later

bill_friday

Bill Friday sits with President John F. Kennedy on stage at Kenan Stadium in 1961. President Kennedy came to UNC to speak on University Day. Courtesy of North Carolina Collection, UNC-CH

It has been a full year since former UNC-system President Bill Friday died, but his presence still remains on UNC-CH’s campus.

“He was president for a total of 30 years; that in and of itself is quite a legacy,” said current UNC-system President Tom Ross.

Ross said Friday, who served as the system’s first president from 1956 to 1986, was responsible for shaping the UNC system’s reputation in many positive ways.

During his time as president, Friday emphasized the importance of affordability, standing up for students and striking a balance between athletics and academics — issues that are still relevant today.

Balancing act

Friday was a founding co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group that emphazises the value of a commitment to academics in intercollegiate sports.

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission, said Friday’s contribution to college athletics was driven by a commitment to integrity.

“He put a priority on the academics, but still understood that athletics had a role to play,” she said. “But that that role should not overshadow or any way compromise the core objective of education.”

Former UNC-CH Athletic Director Dick Baddour said Friday taught him to make the right decision even if it was unpopular.

“He taught me that it was really important to approach very difficult and complex problems in a very empathetic and compassionate way,” Baddour said.

James Moeser, who served as UNC-CH chancellor from 2000-08 said the balance between athletics and academics could never be as simple as Friday wished it could be.

“I know he believed that the kind of scandals that ultimately emerged were the inevitable result of a desire to really be competitive at a high level,” Moeser said.

Men’s basketball Coach Roy Williams said Friday was an instrumental and positive leader in intercollegiate athletics.

“He loved college athletics,” Williams said.

“He had questions about the direction things were going, but he loved the games.”

Open doors

Ross said a major element of Friday’s legacy is a focus on low tuition.

“We’ve learned the importance of having the doors of the University open to everyone who wants to and is qualified to come regardless of their ability to pay,” Ross said.

James Leloudis, a history professor and associate dean of honors at UNC, said Friday understood the value of a public education.

“Bill understood that public universities serve the individual interest of students — that the ability to come at a reasonable price was the door to upward mobility,” he said.

The great defender

Friday presided over the system during the Cold War, a tumultuous time for the United States.

“Bill may be the only major university president to sort of survive that entire period,” Leloudis said. “That was a time of extraordinary change.”

Leloudis said the most obvious example of Friday’s integrity during a tough political time was his response to the Speaker Ban of 1963 that forbade members of the Communist Party — or anyone who pleaded the Fifth Amendment when questioned about their communist affiliation — from speaking at system campuses.

Leloudis said the ban was primarily trying to silence students who were calling for racial justice.

“Through all of that, Bill was a great defender of free speech and open inquiry on public university campus, and of the right to students and faculty to pose hard questions about the world we live in,” Leloudis said.

“Bill was a target of the lawsuit, but behind the scenes he was advising students about how to effectively battle the speaker ban.”

A lasting legacy

Moeser said he learned about modest leadership and integrity from Friday.

“The lesson to learn from Bill Friday is that effective leadership is often quiet, behind the scenes and not flamboyant,” he said. “The other thing I would add is tenacious adherence to principle. He never departed from what he believed in.”

Ross said Friday defined how the UNC system should serve North Carolina.

“I think we’re still deeply committed to our mission of service and reaching into every community in North Carolina,” he said.

Williams said when he thinks of Friday, he thinks of the great leader’s love for Chapel Hill.

“If the mention of a person’s name brings a smile to your face, that’s a pretty doggone good legacy.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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