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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing presidential leadership and approaches to education

Friday draws comparisons between the leadership styles of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Friday worked with each of these presidents on various commissions and task forces involving higher education during the 1960s and 1970s. The excerpt concludes with an assessment of Ronald Reagan and how his approach to issues of education demonstrated a departure from federal interest in education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I had a few questions, and I'd like more opportunities for you to elaborate. Between Kennedy and Carter, particularly, I gather, you had rather close contact and increasedߞJohnson, Nixon, Carter, and those particularly with whom you were vitally involved in central educational decisions. I'm wondering how you would compare the presidencies of those people, in terms of your own relationships with them.
I don't claim to have been that close with them. When you dealt with presidents, you had to deal with the people around them. They make them. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
....was a manߞhis presence was commanding. He wanted everybody to know that he was in charge, he was running it. But that didn't mean that he dealt with it. He would move in in center stage. He was the kind of fellow that would pull you right up to you. Big, strong, and had a hand that would just swallow your's up, and he'd pull you up close. Sometimes you felt like his mind was somewhere else, when he was talking with you about your subject. But, very much a product of the congressional system of development. Mr. Carter was quite the other way. Very bright. A product of gubernatorial training. Much more attentive to individuals, rather than the system. He's a man that didn't have the feelingߞyou didn't feel as warm when you were talking with him, as you did with Johnson. Not that that meant anything, but it was just a different personality type. You had the feeling that he could be very severe, if he had to be. His eyes, at times, you could see a fixed stare in them. He had a great team of people. Eisenstadt was a first-rate domestic chief. What you learn about all these men, though, is that they soon drift away from immediate sense of commitment to domestic things. They want to deal with foreign policy. They want to deal with the world. And I think each personal history shows you that. Mr. Nixon was so much that way, that he really, I think, had any time for domestic affairs. Mr. Johnson was exactly the opposite. It was a thing thatߞthe Vietnam War did him in, as he said it. Gerald Ford wasn't in there long enough to go either way. But Jimmy Carter, through his work with Israel and Egypt, and their two premiers, Sadat and Begin, he became an international figure by it. And it's so interesting to note how Mr. Carter has emerged in the last ten years. Such a distinguished figure in international involvement. Mr. Reagan: I don't know, I've never felt that history would deal with him in a very generous way. Because I've never felt that he really was our leader. He had an agenda that got this country in the worst deficit situation that it will ever see. It's got its educational system in a very bad way. He deliberately and willfully set out to establish a tax policy that benefited the wealthy. That's openly admitted. He really diverted the resources of the country to the military strength issue. And while president turned the whole thing around to where the wall came down. It was obviously a massive expenditure, which they say he brought about, but that's not what history says. It was the internal decay of the communist system that killed it. And the building of a great military structure might have been a force in it, but it was not by any means the real element of the destruction that went on there.
Was part of itߞI gather, a lot of the problem with Reagan, in terms of his light attentiveness to, really, education ߞwas it that he didn't have the people around him? Was that it? Johnson did, obviouslyߞhad all these people who were very interestedߞ
That's right. But you know one of the interesting things about it is he dealt so much with the business community, yet he never listened. David Kerr, for example, with Xerox recently made a statement that I only wished that Mr. Reagan had heard. He said when youߞ"Education is not to be viewed as in competition with national defense, and AIDS, and foreign affairs of this country. It should be viewed as a solution to these problems." Which is really what the truth is. Now Mr. Eisenhower saw some of this when he admonished us all: "Keep your eye on the union of the military-corporate alliance." You're seeing the effect of that under Mr. Reagan. I just don't think Mr. Reagan ever really understood it. Nor did he care, therefore, for the role the academic educational process plays in developing the economy of a country. It has everything in the world to do with it. Especially now with the intelligence level in plant operations being so high. They never grasped this. Some governors do, some don't.