Past Presidents: Dorie Friend

With Al Bloom heading off to NYU Abu Dhabi after the current crop of seniors graduates, the Daily Gazette spoke to his two predecessors about their experiences at and after Swarthmore. The last three presidents have all gone on from Swarthmore to do something with a marked international focus: Theodore “Dorie” Friend ran the Eisenhower Fellowships and David Fraser headed the Aga Khan’s Social Welfare Department. This article is about Friend; an article on Fraser will appear soon.

Photo from the Friends Historical Library

Dorie Friend was president of the College from 1973 to ’82; he came in to the economic tumult of the 1973 oil shock and the political and idealogical upheavals of the 60s. While at Swarthmore, he helped establish both the Black Studies and the Chinese language programs.

When he spoke to the Gazette, after each question he would take a moment to gather his thoughts and then speak in full paragraphs, clearly having outlined exactly how he would best convey his point – and yet he managed to do so with unceasing warmth.

After being asked to summarize what he thought the most important things he had taken away from his tenure at Swarthmore, Friend was silent for a moment, then described himself standing at his window, looking out at his snow-covered Villanova street. (We were speaking on the phone.) In these reflections, he said, four things stood out, because they were “such strong phenomena in my life at the time.”

First, he said, was the shock of getting to Swarthmore in the first place. When he was offered the College’s presidency, Friend was a 41 year old professor of history at SUNY Buffalo — a state school of (at the time) about 25,000 students. The cultural gap between the two schools almost couldn’t have been larger, but that wasn’t the only reason that Friend’s new job was drastically different from anything he had done before. “The Board somehow had faith in me,” he said, still with a hint of incredulity at having been picked, “even though I had never administered anything!” Friend had been at Buffalo for fourteen years; before that, he had done a Fulbright scholarship (in the Phillipines) and his Ph.D. studies.

Friend, though, gladly rose to the challenge. Liberal arts colleges “had always been very dear” to him – he had gone to Williams – and despite “having to adjust fast,” Friend immediately discovered that the job was for him: right away, he said, “it was something I knew I loved.”

The next thing that stood out in Friend’s mind was the enormous economic shock that accompanied the personal shocks of his appointment. Within a year of his arrival, the endowment had plummeted from $85 million to a mere $35 million. “I thought,” Friend said, “how can we possibly do this? Well, with a lot of patience and the hard work of a lot of loyal alumni, faculty, and board members, we did it.”

Eventually, a “terrific” endowment management board, which was led by Larry Shane and the Board of Managers’ Investment Committee, “helped us contend with and rise above the financial problems of the time.” Friend expressed confidence that the “wisdom associated with” the College’s economic policies will be able to accomplish something similar today. The current economic crisis is often compared to the recession of the early 80s, but even in those years (at the end of Friend’s presidency), the endowment was able to avoid any serious harm.

“That brings me,” Friend said in his professorial way, “to the last two points, which have to do with standards.”

Friend spoke first of Swarthmore’s “exacting intellectual standards, which really I can’t comment on except to admire, respect, and say how exemplary they are.” Coming out of a big state school, he said, it was wonderful to see how high standards can be set at a place like Swarthmore.

The other kind of standards he spoke of were moral and ethical standards. “It’s hard to talk about these without sounding soupy or sentimental,” he said, but he felt that it was one of the most important aspects of the College. He was particularly fond of allusions to the Quaker ethos in dealing with touchy moral issues, though he saw a quiet irony in the ubiquitous and “very un-Quakerly” shouts of “You’re violating the Quaker ethos!” – especially when both sides would make the same claim. But this passion, he said, is a big part of what makes Swarthmore special. “The center of moral ethos is sound,” he said; “that was wonderful.”

Friend left Swarthmore in 1982, when he felt he “had completed a full administrative cycle.” He spent the next year on paid sabbatical, writing, and produced large portions of what would later become his comparative history The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942-1945, as well as a novel called Family Laundry.

The Blue-Eyed Enemy, which Friend had started before Swarthmore but wasn’t published until 1988, was a comparative history of Indonesia and the Phillipines under Japanese rule. The Phillipines had been relatively unimportant to the American economy and had been promised independence, so when the Japanese invaded, they fought back. By contrast, Indonesia was suffering under Dutch rule, and welcomed the Japanese. The book, a study of all five cultures, got “good reviews, but not a lot of readers.” Said Friend, “Americans seem reluctant to pick up multicultural books, unless it’s multicultural within the United States.”

Family Laundry was published in 1986; according to the New York Times review, it is an “examination of the family, its mechanisms, intentions, and failures…which Mr. Friend handles intelligently.”

Before finishing these books, however, Friend was offered the presidency of the Eisenhower Fellowships, which sponsors professionals aged 32-45 to come to the U.S. for a program in their field, as well as sending American professionals abroad. Friend accepted on the condition that the Fellowships raise an endowment: “otherwise,” he said, “it couldn’t survive.” The board said that was okay, but only if Friend was the one to do the actual fundraising.

Friend originally got onto the board, in 1982, with the help of Tom McCabe, who was the founding chairman; Friend served as president from 1984 to ’96. Colin Powell is now the current chairman.

The programs “aren’t purely academic — in fact they’re all practical, in fields from agribusiness to medical research to government and law.” Swarthmore is nothing if not purely academic, but the common thread between the Fellowships and Swarthmore, Friend said, was the “talent and motivation” of its participants.

Some people had told Friend that, having done a small school, he should go be president of some big university. He said, though, that he knew the scale he preferred: “small and excellent, like Swarthmore.” He did find that in the Eisenhower Fellowships: “I loved that job too.”

Friend left the fellowships in 1996, when his wife got breast cancer. She rallied well, he said, and lived a happy seven years before a sudden resurgence. After he had left his job and she was doing better, though, she told him that he needed a project, and so Friend “launched on” a history of modern Indonesia.

In 2003, Indonesian Destinies was published by the Harvard University Press, who made a “special board decision” to include all 101 photographs he had wanted to include — a decision for which he is “very grateful.” The book cost $75 to make, Friend said, but sold for $35: “It’s one of the best deals out there in books.” The New York Times gave a “very nice” review.

Friend is now working on a book which will compare five different cultures in the Islamic world, and is also a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. In addition to his academics, Friend has been a nationally ranked senior squash player since leaving Swarthmore in 1983; he was a finalist in the US Open Championship’s 75+ division in 2007.

He has not, however, stayed in close contact with Swarthmore, though “of course” he has “kept in touch with friends and with the news” that comes his way. (There’s less of it now that his Swarthmorean subscription has mysteriously lapsed.) He said “it’s important for a president to get his shadow out of the way of the sunlight of his successor,” although that is less of an issue now, 25 years later.

On Al Bloom’s departure, Fried had to say only that he hopes “liberal arts in an Arabic setting…has the potential for fulfilling Al’s talents, because he’s a really really good administrator and a great guy: I’m proud to have been president when Al joined Swarthmore, though of course I didn’t have much to do with it.”

Friend also had nothing to say to the Presidential search committee but that they had his “smiles and blessing: they don’t need advice from the likes of me, and I’m sure they’ll do a wonderful and honest job.”

Among Friend’s many accomplishments, however, one thing turns up readily in the New York Times archive which he declined to mention. While a senior at Williams, he came up with the name for its purple cow mascot: Ephelia.


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