Debra Friedman aims to rejuvinate UWT
A Ledger exclusive interview with the Chancellor about her personal background and her plans for UWT
Published: Monday, October 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 10, 2011 22:10
Universities across the state of Washington are undergoing severe budget cuts, along with increasing tuition costs, causing students to frantically search for alternative resources in order to make ends meet. The University of Washington is not immune to these cuts and unfortunately tuition has increased 20% for the 2011-2012 academic year. In the midst of this chaos and change, a new chancellor, Debra Friedman, has arrived with clear goals in mind to help conquer these difficult hardships. She officially began this role over summer on the first of July.
Many students mistakenly believe that people in high administrative positions are insulated from struggles that students face and think that those in leadership cannot relate to their situations. In the following interview, Chancellor Debra Friedman willingly answered questions concerning these issues, and many others which UWT faces. Talking with her in this up-close and personal manner provides an opportunity for students to get to know her, not just as our new Chancellor, but as a human being who has worked hard to succeed and desires to help students succeed as well.
The Ledger: What are your hobbies?
Chancellor: "I am laughing about that question because I have noticed this is a six or seven day a week job." While admitting that she continues to have obligations both during the week and on weekends, she feels "blessed to be invited to so many things in the community." When she's not fulfilling duties either here in Tacoma or "going back and forth to Seattle for meetings and receptions," she loves to cook. "I also like to hike."
The Ledger: What would you say is your personal favorite thing to cook?
Chancellor: "I am fond of cooking Moroccan food, particularly something called tagine which is a stew." This can be made with "many different things." She admits that she has cooked it so often that her daughter "likes to think of that as comfort food" and is now an "even better cook than I am." Though she enjoys cooking, she is not fond of baking.
The Ledger: How do you manage such a huge role?
Chancellor: "Well, I love it. I surround myself with people who are equally engaged in their world as I am in mine. I am motivated by a sense of the importance of this work for the students whom we serve." Knowing that she actually works for the students motivates her to get up in the morning. In her mind, this is not just a platitude.
Her dream here is "to think about what it is that we are doing that is relevant" and "to increase our capacity to help students reach their dreams."
She recently addressed the new faculty, which included assistant professors and lecturers that join UWT each year to "augment the teaching faculty." She stressed the importance of their obligations to students and how it is a privilege to teach here. "Many of the students, as you know, are first generation college students," she states, which makes teaching them an extra special opportunity.
The Ledger: What is the one thing people should know about you, but don't?
Chancellor: "I worked my way through college. I think most people think that I come from a different kind of background than I do, so they make assumptions, like we all make."
She goes on to explain that while attending college her parents were not together and neither were willing or had the resources to fund her education. "I had to figure out how to pay for college myself. It was an interesting challenge."
"In the old days it wasn't difficult to pay tuition but it was extremely difficult to figure out how you were going to support yourself." Due to the expensive housing and cost of living, "I took a job as a dorm counselor for a special program for the children of migrant farm workers." They were college age children who had not yet received their high school diploma.
While living in the dorm with college students they took special classes to help them earn their GED. "I must tell you that I learned at least as much from them and from that job as I did from college because I had not had any exposure before to migrant farm workers or to that world or that life." Many of the students had extremely tough lives and living in close quarters with them gave Friedman even more compassion for those that struggle, aside from helping pay for her dorm.