University of Washington leaders: Please find us another Debra Friedman.
The very circumstances of Friedman’s untimely death on Sunday point to her extraordinary commitment to the University of Washington Tacoma. The UWT chancellor asked for full-time sick leave only on Friday; two days later, she was dead.
Given Friedman’s drive and devotion, one can assume that she had decided to give even the final weeks of her life to the school and the communities it serves.
“Serve” was the theme of her all-too-brief 21/2-year tenure as the UWT’s leader. Arriving in mid-2011, she hit the ground as a dynamo of vision and action.
When she described the UWT, she invariably used the phrase “urban-serving university.” Those words had precise meaning. She envisioned a campus meeting the educational needs of the region in every way possible.
Her eyes lit quickly on Tacoma Public Schools, where she and Superintendent Carla Santorno created Pathways to Promise, a systematic effort to open college opportunity to every child in the district. The initiative was extended to Puyallup, and she intended to offer it to every other nearby district.
By itself, Pathways to Promise would have constituted an impressive piece of community outreach. But Friedman was constantly hunting for ways to connect with the UWT’s neighbors.
When she looked south at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, for example, she saw opportunities to further open the campus to soldiers and veterans. She launched efforts to help newly discharged veterans get into and through college, and oversaw the creation of programs tailored to their needs, including a master’s in cybersecurity.
She also saw an opportunity to tap into the reservoir of intellectual firepower at the large base. Two weeks ago, for example, the UWT brought JBLM’s Lt. Gen. Robert Brown and other high-ranking officers to a symposium she’d created, Views on the Pacific.
Brown, Chinese diplomat Liu Weimin and UW President Michael Young engaged in a free-ranging discussion of the relationships and geopolitics of Pacific nations. It wouldn’t have happened without Friedman.
Friedman often spoke of the UWT’s “incredible special relationship” with the community — a relationship she nurtured. Part of the nurturing was her devotion to the UWT students, many of them poor, struggling and finding themselves as scholars for the first time.
Those students and this area needed what she brought to the school. The UW’s challenge will be to find someone with the same kind of passion and sense of mission. It won’t be easy