After life of service, Friday has a lot of advice for UNC

Staff WriterJuly 13, 2010 

  • UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC General Alumni Association are hosting an open house in honor of William Friday's 90th birthday today. It is from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Hill Alumni Center's Alumni Hall on Stadium Drive on the UNC campus. The public is invited.

— He's not quite as busy as he was during the 30 years that he presided over the state's public universities, but William Friday still keeps active these days.

Friday, who turns 90 today, is involved with projects on poverty, literacy and services for the elderly.

And he's still taping his long-running "North Carolina People" television show on UNC-TV. Friday pays close attention to state politics and educational issues and routinely fields calls from folks seeking advice.

And, of course, he dotes on his wife, Ida, who is also 90. They still live in the house they built in 1986 just off the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

"I keep busy," he says.

Friday will be feted this afternoon at an open-to-the-public event at the alumni center on the UNC-CH campus.

Friday recently talked with The News & Observer about some of the key issues facing higher education. Here are excerpts:

Q. You spent a great deal of time working on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. What is your view of big-time college athletics these days?

Well, I don't think it's resolved at all. I think a judgment, if I may put it that way, is approaching because of the excessive costs of the whole business right now. I think the difficulty lies in the fact that trustees and administrators have lost control. Too often, the demands are dictated by television - playing any night of the week. They're in complete control of when games are played.

Q. The UNC system received a $70 million budget cut in the just-approved state budget, which included permission for campuses to increase tuition as much as $750. Has the public university system ever gone through as severe a series of cuts as this?

We had an experience like this in the '50s. There were very severe cuts in those days. The problem here - there's an interesting situation developing in North Carolina. It has to be looked at. What we're doing - this tuition action is a very dramatic example - if you're a very good student and you come from a very poor family, the university has resources to help you. And if you come from upper means, the fiscal side is no problem. But what we're doing is increasing the pressure on the middle class in North Carolina, which is that wide swath of people who have been so loyal to North Carolina. If we enact this, we'll be locking a lot of people out. And that'll be a very severe problem for the state. We simply cannot fail to educate as many of our young, bright people as we can.

Q. So what will the next UNC president's top challenge be?

It's going to be the cost of going to college. This is a very difficult problem. It's real. The debts are there. Last year when we had commencement at these institutions, the young people were leaving with debt of $10,000, $15,000, $20,000. That didn't used to happen. That's pretty tough given the economics they're going into. So cost is a major, immediate confrontation that's got to be met, and it's got to be met head on. It all turns on access. The strength of this place has been that every child In North Carolina could dream of going to one of these institutions, if they did their work. Now, the cost is eroding that dramatically. I don't mean to be preachy, but I've witnessed this now for a half a century.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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