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April 23, 2001

Billy Frye to retire (for good) in May

By Michael Terrazas


Chancellor Billy Frye has decided it is both his choice and his responsibility to conclude his distinguished career in academia and administration—including 15 years at Emory—by retiring at the end of May.

Since coming to Emory in 1986 as vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Frye has also served as the University’s first provost and its interim president.

After Bill Chace assumed the presidency in 1994, Frye returned to the provost’s office for three years before becoming Emory’s fourth chancellor in 1997.

“It’s all part of my rather vague, evolving retirement plan,” quipped Frye, who said he came to Emory intending to serve five years as graduate school dean before retiring. After former President James Laney departed, Frye took on the interim presidency and then continued as provost to help Chace become acclimated to the University.

“When I insisted to Dr. Chace that I was going to retire [in 1997], he and his colleagues came up with the notion that I could continue on as chancellor—I had not expected that,” Frye said of the post, which has been only periodically occupied during Emory’s history.

As chancellor, Frye participated in a number of projects related to information technology, including his co-chairmanship (along with college Dean Steve Sanderson) of the Council on Information Resources and Technology. This year, he has served as one of four co-chairs of the University’s Year of Reconciliation.

“It was an extraordinary privilege and honor, and I have enjoyed it tremendously,” Frye said of his term as chancellor. He thanked Chace and the Board of Trustees, along with the late Joe Crooks, former general counsel for the University, for offering him the position.

“Emory owes much, as I do personally, to this brilliant scholar, gifted administrator and good friend,” Chace said. “My colleagues and I wish him all the best as he brings to a close his remarkable career at this university.”

Born in Clarkesville, Ga., near the North Carolina border, Frye earned his bachelor’s from Piedmont College in nearby Demorest before coming to Emory for graduate school, receiving one of the biology department’s first doctorates. He joined the faculty at the University of Virginia, then began a 25-year career at the University of Michigan, where he arrived as an assistant professor of zoology and departed as vice president for academic affairs and the school’s first provost.

That makes two major American research universities in which Frye originated the role of provost.

However, always one to shun the spotlight, he downplayed the significance of this. “More than anything, that term has just come into usage in universities across the country in the last 25 years or so as a translation of the term ‘academic vice president,’” Frye said. “In terms of real, functional lineage, I don’t look at it [as anything different].”

Asked which of his Emory accomplishments he holds most dear, Frye cited his work with faculty, staff and students in the campuswide exploration that led to the 1996 publication of Choices & Responsibility, a seminal document for Emory that serves as a set of philosophical, guiding principles for the University’s future.

“It’s the faculty’s legacy,” Frye said, dismissing the idea that the mark C&R left on the University culture is owed to him. “Whatever durability it’s got is because there was an enormous level of participation by faculty. It was probably as nearly universal as anything I had ever seen in a University context or can imagine achieving. It’s not my legacy—it’s ours—but I am proud of it.”

As for his future plans, Frye said he will retire to Clarkesville with his wife, Elisa Ann. “I’m learning to chew tobacco and sit on the front porch,” he said. “I’ll garden, maybe fish and grow orchids, just putter around that way.”


Back to Emory Report April 23, 2001