Debra Friedman, Chancellor of UW Tacoma, dies at 58

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A message from UW President Michael Young:

It is with great sadness that I inform you that University of Washington Tacoma Chancellor Debra Friedman died on January 26, 2014, at the age of 58, after falling ill with lung cancer. She died peacefully with her family gathered around her.

It is impossible to ignore the tragedy when someone is lost to us who has so much to give; however, we have already benefited immensely from Debra’s lifelong devotion to higher education.

Chancellor Friedman was a true daughter of the University of Washington.

She received her graduate degrees from UW — a Master’s in Sociology in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1983, during which time she received an Excellence in Teaching award. Her daughter Eliana graduated from UW in 2006 as a Rhodes Scholar. Debra was a teacher, a scholar and a gifted administrator.

We are blessed that she returned to UW as Chancellor of the Tacoma campus, after six years at Arizona State University building the downtown Phoenix campus.

In just two-and-a-half years at UW Tacoma, Debra brought into sharp focus an identity for UW Tacoma as an urban-serving campus, building on the substantial investment the region has always made in its university. That identity and investment is rooted in her unyielding passion: the transformational impact of education — that changes the lives of individuals and the communities of which they are a part. In those two-and-a-half years, she became a key leader in the South Sound region.

Debra recognized the untapped potential of a stronger partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and developed an entrepreneurial program and a cybersecurity graduate degree, all focused on veterans. She saw that strong public K-12 education fosters a college-going culture, and launched Pathways to Promise and Tacoma Whole Child Initiative partnerships with local school districts. Debra was always passionate about expanding access to higher education, which required campus expansion, and she pushed for completion of Tioga Library Building and the construction of the University Y Student Center.

Her family tells us that some of Debra’s last words were of the University of Washington. It is our responsibility now to carry on the great work and momentum that Chancellor Friedman has begun. She has assured that UW Tacoma will continue its critical work as a transformative institution.

For those who would like to contribute to Debra Friedman’s vision of the transformational impact of higher education, donations may be made to support student scholarships at UW Tacoma. A formal event to memorialize Chancellor Friedman will be held — more information will be posted on the Chancellor's website.

February 7, 2014
Media contact: 

Mike Wark, Director of External Relations, 253-692-5771 or