Mr. Friday was named interim president of the UNC system in 1956 and expected to hold the job “no more than a few months,” he said at the time. He served as UNC president until 1986.
“President Friday was the most signficant educator in North Carolina in the 20th century,” C.D. Spangler Jr., who succeeded Mr. Friday as president, told the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.
Mr. Friday increased the number of campuses in the UNC system from three to 16, as enrollment increased almost tenfold to more than 125,000.
“Bill Friday was one of the shapers of this modern, multi-campus system,” William Link, author of a 1997 biography of Mr. Friday, told the Associated Press. “He was the person who kind of consolidated things and built the system the way it is now. It’s gone through a lot of changes, but it’s Bill Friday’s university in a lot of ways.”
During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Mr. Friday helped the university steer clear of racial strife, and he oversaw the desegregation of the state university campuses. He was also considered a champion of academic freedom and free speech who worked to repeal a speaker ban, which prohibited known communists and other controversial figures from appearing at university forums.
Mr. Friday became one of North Carolina’s most revered citizens, fostering a tolerant, progressive academic community within the universitysystem. One of his goals was to make education as affordable as possible, enabling people from all races and walks of life to attend a state university.
“He loved students,” Link said. “He was very much on the ground and in person. He was very unlike the kind of university presidents we have now, who are CEO types and no one has access. Bill Friday, everyone had access to. But he managed it in a very cool way.”
Mr. Friday helped devise the Atlantic Coast Conference, an athletic conference of mostly southern universities that became known as a basketball hotbed. Later, he criticized the presence of big money in college sports and the corruption that often resulted.
He was the founding co-chairman in 1989 of the Knight Commission, a privately funded panel that seeks to institute reforms in college athletics and exert more institutional control over sports programs.
In a Washington Post interview last week, Mr. Friday lamented the presence of scandals at UNC’s flagship campus in Chapel Hill, which had led to the resignations of the football coach and athletic director in the past two years.