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Debra Friedman, Chancellor of UW Tacoma, dies at 58

Debra Friedman
Debra Friedman

Dear Colleagues:

This past Sunday, University of Washington Tacoma Chancellor Debra Friedman succumbed to cancer. Many of you knew Debra well and worked with her during her years here at the University. Some of you indeed may have taught her while she earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from our Department of Sociology. She was a true daughter of the University of Washington, and her absence will be felt across all of our campuses. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and many friends in our community.

She earned a master’s in 1978 and her Ph.D. in 1983, during which time she also received an Excellence in Teaching award. Her daughter Eliana graduated from the UW in mathematics in 2006 and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar.

Debra worked at the UW in various administrative capacities from 1994 to 2005, including as assistant dean and associate dean of undergraduate education, associate provost for academic planning and director of special projects in development and alumni relations.

After six years as a dean and vice president at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus, she returned to the UW as Chancellor of the Tacoma 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 are 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.

A formal event to memorialize Chancellor Friedman is being planned. More information will be available in the coming days on the UW Tacoma website, along with information for those who may wish to make a memorial contribution in her honor. It is a very sad day for all of us who knew Debra and who were in the aura of her immense talent and passion for higher education.


Michael K. Young

Ana Mari Cauce
Provost & Executive Vice President