After four years of adjustments, Interim President Dr. Will Friesen is up for yet another one. Last month it was announced that Dr. David King will become president as of Jan. 1 instead of Friesen, who was a finalist in the running for the position.
Friesen describes his role over the past couple years as a uniquely important one. Allegations of plagiarism surrounding former president Dr. Gary Streit influenced Streit’s early retirement. Late in the day on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, Friesen was notified by the Board of Trustees that Streit had formally resigned and Friesen was approved as president starting with an introduction to the faculty at 10 a.m. the next morning.
“It all happened so fast there was just no preparation time for even thinking about how this was going to go,” Friesen said.
He continued to function as both provost and president for some time until things could be figured out as to whom would take the position of provost.
“Picking up the pieces of trying to figure out the office and what I had to be responsible for immediately was very difficult,” Friesen said. “There were a lot of hurt feelings around and I had to make phone calls, pick up those personnel issues and mend some fences in the community. It was a very difficult time.”
Friesen describes his role as president as one that fit his personality quite well.
“I had to let people know everything was going to be okay,” he said. “We were going to move forward together and although it was a difficult moment, we would get through it. That kind of calmness and confidence was evident to me that it’s what a lot of us were feeling. I tend to be steady on my feet and calm and the personality side of me happened to work nicely.”
The calm to the storm that Friesen was expected to bring was probably not what he and his wife Glenna were expecting just a few years prior as they looked for a new challenge in life. They had been in the California area for about 20 years and they thought it was time for a new adventure. He had been employed by Fresno Pacific University and heard about the provost position opening at Malone. On July 1, 2008 he got the job.
The seed of Malone was first planted in Friesen’s mind in the late 80s when he heard from California that Malone faculty were leading the charge to raise awareness and end unjust retirement fund placement. Retirement funds many of the Christian universities were investing in were in South Africa, which in turn was supporting apartheid. They wanted to push the company to remove those funds that were supporting such injustice.
[pullquote]I had to let people know everything was going to be okay,” Friesen said. “We were going to move forward together and although it was a difficult moment, we would get through it.”[/pullquote]
At that time, corporate funds and investment dollars were supporting apartheid. After becoming aware of this, Friesen wrote a letter to TIA/CREF whom his retirement was invested with at that time along with many other Christian university employees.
“That was my memory of what Malone was about,” he said. “When I saw the provost position at Malone 20 years later I said, ‘You know what, I think that could be a good place for us.’”
Just 18 months after becoming provost, Friesen was notified he was the interim president, which he has served as now for just under two years.
“The past years have been a transition for me certainly, but also for Malone and it’s leadership and hopefully now going forward it will become a little more steady,” Friesen said.
Reflecting on the past, he calls his bringing calmness and steadiness back to the campus as a big part of his time here. In his presidency, Friesen has helped prepare for the accreditation visit that will take place next September.
He has also headed up the reorganization of the financial aid and admissions systems in the last few months away from an earlier model under Dr. Streit.
“It has taken awhile to unravel but I think it’s really going to be positive for the future and future Malone students,” Friesen said.
Friesen has also worked on expanding the diversity of the faculty.
“We have several new faculty from minority communities and different countries, which is really good for the students to engage with faculty not from their own home towns,” he said.
The biggest question being asked still remains: What is in the future for Dr. and Mrs. Friesen?
“It’s still very up in the air,” he said. “I’d love to tell you something specific but I just can’t.
“Whether it might continue in some role on campus could be a possibility, or we’ll see if there is another presidency out there, or other administrative role. We are open to see what the good Lord might point us to. This is a huge time of discernment and conversation and getting feedback from good friends to help with that process.”
[pullquote]I’m like a senior here since it’s my fourth year here,” he said. “It would have been great to hand the seniors their diplomas. It’s bittersweet.”[/pullquote]
Although having only met new president Dr. King once several years ago at a conference in Washington D.C., Friesen is confident in his ability to be the new president. Friesen has been helping King with the transition period by having phone conversations and many emails throughout the past several weeks.
“I’m doing everything I can to help him in the transition process,” Friesen said. “When you come in in January, it’s pretty huge. I worry about that a little for him.”
The one regret that Friesen said he has is that he cannot conduct the commencement in the spring.
“I’m like a senior here since it’s my fourth year here,” he said. “It would have been great to hand the seniors their diplomas. It’s bittersweet.”
Student Senate will be holding a farewell time for Dr. Friesen for students to share words of a song, poem or their own words in honor of him and his service on Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center Dining Room. The farewell is open to students and faculty.