UW Tacoma Chancellor Debra Friedman dies at age 58

Staff writerJanuary 26, 2014 

University of Washington Tacoma Chancellor Debra Friedman, addressing graduates at commencement in June, died Sunday at the age of 58.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER — Staff photographer Buy Photo

University of Washington Tacoma Chancellor Debra Friedman died Sunday following treatment for lung cancer.

Friedman, 58, had announced in early January that she would cut back on her duties while she underwent radiation treatment and chemotherapy. She later decided on full medical leave instead.

“Chancellor Friedman was a true daughter of the University of Washington,” said UW President Michael Young. “Debra was a teacher, a scholar and a gifted administrator.”

She received her graduate degrees from UW — a master’s and doctorate in sociology. During that time, she also received an excellence in teaching award.

Friedman’s daughter Eliana Hechter graduated from UW in 2006 as a Rhodes Scholar.

Friedman returned to UW as chancellor of the Tacoma campus in 2011, after serving as vice president at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus. Prior to her move to Arizona, between 1994 and 2005, Friedman held several administrative positions at the UW’s Seattle campus.

Friedman impressed many in Tacoma and Pierce County with her devotion to a community she had often visited while growing up in Seattle.

“From the very first conversation, and dozens that followed, she had a passion for the University of Washington Tacoma and the community it served,” said Bruce Kendall, President and CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County. “She made sure that all of us knew this was our university, not her university. She was one of us.”

In less than three years at the helm, Friedman left her mark on UWT’s urban campus.

Kendall pointed to her commitment to UWT’s Institute of Technology and her ability to shepherd additional resources toward it. He said she was actively engaged with bringing educational opportunities to military veterans and personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She also supported the concept of bringing a law school to Tacoma through UWT. Kendall said all of those efforts will continue, with members of the community working to raise seed money.

UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce, a colleague and personal friend of Friedman for more than a decade, described Friedman as “fiercely intelligent and uncompromising in the best sense of the word.”

“She insisted on excellence,” Cauce said. “That is something the UW Tacoma and the whole community here — faculty, staff and students — really appreciated about her.”

Cauce said Friedman often viewed things through her lens as a sociologist.

“One of the things she did so well, was the union of the head and heart,” she said.

Cauce said Friedman often talked about making the UWT not just another UW campus, but the best campus to serve Tacoma.

Joshua Knudson, UWT’s vice chancellor for advancement, said Friedman had the ability to galvanize people’s feelings about the campus.

“She recognized where the institution was always going,” he said. “She cemented that identity for our community. I can’t tell you how powerful that was for our campus.”

Provost Cauce said she talked Sunday with UWT’s student body president.

“Students really could feel how much she loved this place,” Cauce added.

Two UWT administrators, J.W. Harrington and Harlan Patterson, will lead the campus for the immediate future. Harrington is vice chancellor for academic affairs. Patterson is vice chancellor for finance and administration.


Donations in Debra Friedman’s memory can be made to the UW Tacoma Scholarship Fund at tacoma.uw.edu/chancellor/chancellor.

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