William C. Friday, 1920-2012

William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina and an icon of American public higher education, died October 12, 2012. The longtime Chapel Hill resident was 92.

Chancellor Holden Thorp told a University Day convocation crowd about Friday’s passing as the campus community marked the 219th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of Old East on Oct. 12, 1793.

“Bill Friday lived a life that exemplified everything that has made our University – and the state of North Carolina – great,” said UNC President Tom Ross. “He was a man of unquestioned honor and integrity who devoted a lifetime of extraordinary leadership and service to the University and state he loved so much. He also was a man of deep courage and conviction who never backed away from doing the right thing for our students, our faculty or our citizens. We have truly lost one of North Carolina’s most special treasures.” Read Ross’ full statement.

Added Thorp, “North Carolina has lost one of its most remarkable citizens in Bill Friday. His influence on public higher education in our state and across the nation is legendary. In a lifetime devoted to public service, Bill Friday was committed to providing access to high-quality, affordable higher education to North Carolina students. He was tireless in his efforts to underscore the importance of higher education to people from all walks of life, as well as to our state’s future prosperity.” Read Thorp’s full statement.

Friday, who was born in Raphine, Va., but grew up in Dallas, N.C., earned a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering from N.C. State University in 1941. He married Ida Howell a year later and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 until 1946. After World War II, he entered Carolina’s law school, where he was president of the Law School Association, and graduated in 1948.

Best known to North Carolinians for his 30-year tenure as UNC president, Friday worked in several leadership positions before taking the helm of the then three-campus University in 1956. From 1948 until 1951, he was assistant dean of students at Carolina before becoming the assistant to Gordon Gray, president of the Consolidated University (then Carolina, N.C. State and Woman’s College, now UNC Greensboro).

In 1955, Friday became secretary of the University and was named acting president the following year. He was chosen to take the position permanently later in 1956 and remained until 1986, becoming the longest-serving president of the 20th century. That same year, a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) study ranked Friday the nation’s most effective public university president.

Throughout his tenure as UNC president, Friday was a staunch supporter of academic freedom, fairness and integrity. He often served as mediator between student activists and the North Carolina General Assembly during the Civil Rights Movement, and he worked for five years to repeal the 1963 Speaker Ban Law, which made it illegal for critics of the government to appear on campus. He also oversaw the racial desegregation of the University and its expansion to include all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities. 

Read more.

Other information about Friday includes:

As a tribute to Friday, UNC Press is making an electronic version of William Link’s biography of Friday available free for a limited time.

The Legacy of William C. Friday, from the University’s Virtual Museum.

Celebrating Bill Friday, from the UNC Library’s blog about Hugh Morton’s photography.

The William and Ida Friday Continuing Education Center.

Published October 12, 2012.