Frank Newman: February 24, 1927-May 29th, 2004
Margaret A. Miller
I once vowed, as a young woman exasperated with my elders, that I would never become one of those old fogies who talked about when I was young and giants walked the earth. But with the deaths this year of Clark Kerr and Frank Newman, it does seem like two giants have indeed left us. Their influence reached down into the lives of people who didn’t even know of their existence. Kerr’s Master Plan for California higher education, for instance, made it possible for my parents to send three daughters to the University of California, despite their straightened circumstances, thus determining, to a large degree, our futures.
Frank Newman, too, had an influence that extended well beyond the people who knew him or even of him. Wherever the action in higher education was, there was Frank, being prescient. Consequently, as Art Levine says, “his fingerprints are all over the resulting education system.” Levine points out that, when the federal government began to extend its support of and influence over higher education in the 1960s and 1970s, the Newman Commission was there, framing its recommendations about the use of federal resources in terms of higher education’s responsibilities to students and the public.
When the states started paying closer attention to the education systems that by then were consuming a major portion of their budgets, issuing regulations and demanding accountability, as president of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) Frank encouraged them to focus on key issues like the problem of at-risk children.
An increasing concern about the civic engagement of young people and their colleges also prompted Frank, while president of ECS, to found Campus Compact. And as higher education started to become an increasingly complicated, competitive, and global phenomenon, Frank created the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Futures Project at Brown University.
But those who knew Frank remember other things as well–his sense of humor, for example. When Frank lost his thumb to cancer, his response was to offer people “high fours.” When his illness was diagnosed, he made it clear that while he would welcome notes and letters, they’d better be amusing. His irreverence extended to higher education, whose pomposities and self-congratulation didn’t stand a chance with him. I remember him making fun of the “American-higher-education-is-the-best-in-the-world” mantra that is as de rigueur in higher education speeches in this country as mention of Mr. Jefferson is in speeches at the University of Virginia. That may be why “education governors” and presidents such as Bill Clinton sought his counsel.
For all his irreverence, Frank Newman was very serious about the things that mattered. His concern with higher education’s future, and with the changes it needed to make to meet that future, made him a long-time supporter of AAHE. And he was important to the development of Change. As Nanette Wiese, managing editor of the magazine, says, “When I started with Change in 1985, Frank’s breadth of knowledge (and charm!) added so much to those early days of establishing the ‘new’ Change. The amazing array of people he knew and the ‘big picture’ he brought to those frequent editorial planning meetings left an indelible mark on the magazine–and all of us.”
His concern with students was evident from his earliest work–he was the champion of access, and he saw the promise of for-profit education in increasing it. At the same time, he argued and worked for a collegiate education that goes beyond training to encompass social engagement.
Some people, when they die, leave a very large hole in the universe. Frank Newman, like Clark Kerr, was one of those people. We will miss him.
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