Chair-The Wright Way
(All photos by Mark Handler '71)
In his second tenn
of the Mathematics Dept.,
Dr. Fred B. Wright examines
his role behind and beyond
the high-pressure desk.
"It's not like the Army. You can't just
issue an order if you want to do it well."
Dr. Fred B. Wright '47 (AB, MA '48) was
commenting on his seventh year as
Chairman of the UNC Mathematics
Department. "It takes tact and a knowl-
edge of how other people feel."
This from a doctor of philosophy and
chairman of a major department on the
academic campus is illustrative of the
scope of his administrative duties. The job
of being a department chairman is nei-
ther a work detail to be passed around
like Kitchen Police in the Army, nor is it
an academic plum which the tenured
facuIty seek as a titular laurel to add to
their professorial crowns.
The job of department chairman at
Chapel Hill has evolved into a demanding
position that pushes and pulls the class-
room teacher and research scholar away
from his academic life far more than
he wishes. To maintain necessary organi-
zation in the life of the University and
its departments, the Chairman must be a
person learned in his field, and at the
same time increasingly capable as an ad-
This position, appointive for a five-
year term by the Chancellor, is one of tre-
mendous importance to the scholarship
of the University. To illustrate its signifi-
cance, the Mathematics Department, and
its Chairman, is taken as an example.
Professor of Mathematics Fred Wright is
well-suited to the diplomacy required in
his post as Department Chairman.
As a 19-year-old junior grade ensign
in the U.S. Navy, he was made Com-
manding Officer of an American base on
Wallis Island, bordered by Samoa and
the Fijis in the South Pacific. World War
II had just become history. It was 1945.
Young Fred Wright was the arehetype
TV series hero with responsibilities over
a handful of m"en. Their mission was to
close the ,base.
Yet, Ensign Wright discovered the
islanders were unhappy about being re-
turned to the French, whose influence over
them had waned during the ,global fight-
ing. On Wallis, Yanks or independence
was preferred to status as a French protec-
torate. Ensign Wright received a letter
of merit from the Navy for his success in
reuniting the natives and French. His
first bout with appeasement had been suc-