News | Academics

Longtime SEAS professor remembered as supportive colleague

Updated, June 12, 12:26 a.m.

Colleagues remember Morton Friedman, a longtime professor and former vice dean at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, as a mentor and a repository of knowledge about Columbia.

Friedman, who is survived by his wife Sandy, children Robert and Lori, and three grandchildren, died on Tuesday in Connecticut. He was 86.

"The passing of Professor Mort Friedman, one of Columbia Engineering’s most devoted and treasured faculty members and leaders, is a deeply sad loss for SEAS and the Columbia community," SEAS Dean Mary Boyce said in an email. "Mort’s laugh, his smile, and his passion for SEAS will always be remembered, and we pause today to reflect on a great colleague and a true friend to so many in SEAS and across Columbia. He was a remarkable man and I am very lucky to have known him, if only for a short time."

Friedman joined Columbia’s faculty in 1956 as an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics. He went on to serve as chair of that department from 1981 to 1995.

George Deodatis, the current chair of the department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, called Friedman one of his academic mentors. Deodatis said that on his first day as a graduate student at SEAS in 1983, Friedman invited him to his office to talk.

“He was very jovial, very engaging, smiling all the time. From the very first minute, he made me feel at home,” Deodatis said. “For the next 30 years, I’ve realized that this is exactly who Mort Friedman was—always with an open door, a smile on his face, always ready to help, to guide, to mentor young students and faculty.”

“When you were talking to him, you realized that he cared about you. He was always available and ready to help for any kind of problem,” Deodatis said, adding that Friedman was known to help faculty members and students across departments.

In 1995, Donald Goldfarb, then-interim dean of SEAS, appointed Friedman to become the school’s vice dean.

“Mort was really invaluable—not just as a person who knew everything about the school, but he was a very thoughtful and very fair kind of person,” Goldfarb said. “He wasn’t pushing his own department or discipline. What he cared about mainly was Columbia.”

In his role as vice dean, Friedman oversaw changes to the school’s curriculum, including adding a liberal arts minor for engineering students and revising the first-year curriculum.

During his tenure, Friedman also founded the Division of Mathematical Methods, served as the associate dean for instruction and research, and chaired the University Senate’s Executive Committee.

Goldfarb said that Friedman had a wealth of knowledge about Columbia—from the inner workings of the administration to University traditions.

“He was kind of the wise old man of the school,” Goldfarb said. “He sort of knew everything about Columbia—not just the engineering school.”

Friedman was celebrated by SEAS in October 2012 when a conference room in the Seeley W. Mudd Building was named in his honor.

Both Goldfarb and Deodatis said that a number of faculty members were continuing to respond with memories to an email sent on Wednesday by SEAS Dean Mary Boyce announcing Friedman’s passing.

“There are very few people who have served Columbia as long and as well as he had,” Goldfarb said. “He was like an institution. Very few people reach that status.”

“When you think of Columbia engineering, you tend to think of Mort,” Goldfarb added.

Though services will be private, a public memorial is planned for the fall in St. Paul’s Chapel.

samantha.cooney@columbiaspectator.com  |  @sammcooney

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Sandy Friedman's first name and stated that Friedman died at his home in Connecticut. Spectator regrets the errors.

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