Wednesday, June 4, 2008

COMMENTARY: Who is F & M's President John Fry?

John Fry is not your ordinary college president. The position conjures up the vision of a distinguished academic with graduate degrees in arts or science, usually an earned doctorate, a career of teaching, and the author of articles and books.

Instead, Fry received an undergraduate degree in American Civilization at Lafayette College. He then earned a Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) at New York University's Stern School of Business in 1986.

Prior to accepting the position as the 14th president of Franklin and Marshall College, Fry served as executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania.

According to a statement by the U of P President Judith Rodin at the time that Fry left for F & M, Executive Vice President Fry played "a key part of the leadership team that implemented significant and wide-ranging change at Penn. John's energy and drive helped propel the realization of the strategic plan, and he recruited a highly talented team to work with him on these efforts. John leaves the University a dramatically changed and vastly improved institution."

Prior to joining Penn, Fry was employed by the international business consulting firm of Coopers & Lybrand in New York where he became a partner-in-charge of national higher education and not-for-profit consulting.

An apparent condition of Fry agreeing to come to F & M was the college providing its president with a house and grounds suitable for living and entertainment purposes. It is common for catered affairs to take place under tents and within the residence. F & M personnel maintain the grounds in immaculate condition and both city police and college security cars drive by the house on a regular basis, usually slowing down to take a careful look.

Under Fry's leadership, F & M has raised much money, undertaken an expansive building program, and has set forth a strategic plan that many in the community have found breath taking. Also Fry has played an important civic role, especially in co-founding the James Street Improvement District.

Fry would likely be a successful business executive in almost any corporate capacity, and his demeanor and talk are typical of a corporate CEO.

Although much admired for his fund raising, development and vision for F & M, some have observed that Fry is not receptive to ideas counter to his own and can interpret disagreement as hostility. This is not a characteristic of most academics, with the notable exception of Woodrow Wilson who was president of Princeton prior to becoming president of the United States.

If reports by professional journalist Christiaan Hart Nibbrig, Editor of the Lancaster Post, concerning the actions of F & M's security guards are accurate, the question in many people’s mind will be "What was John Fry thinking?"

The background for the bizarre events is resentment over the Lancaster Post publicizing an alleged late-at-night burglary by two students of the Iron Hill Brewery, situated below their college residents.

According to information reaching NewsLanc, the college had officially warned Ron Harper, Jr., News Editor of the Post, of serious consequences should he step foot on F & M property.

Subsequently, thousands of copies of the Post carrying the article were removed by one or more individuals from various Turkey Hill stores.

Later a Post distribution box that had been set in the right-of-way on the corner across from the Fry residence was apparently stolen.

The ostensible purpose of moving the box to the right-of-way at the corner of the Fry residence was to secure it by means of a chain to a street sign pole.

This is a fast developing story that is likely to be carried by the national press. NewsLanc will post updates from reporter George Sheldon throughout the day.