An Unintended Legacy: A Salute to Fred McFarlane's 50 Years of Excellence

August 22, 2022
Fred McFarlane

Editor’s Note: Caren Sax, professor emeritus and director of the Interwork Institute, submitted the following tribute in honor of Fred McFarlane’s 50th anniversary at San Diego State University. 

When Fred McFarlane was first hired at San Diego State College in 1972, he had just completed his doctoral degree at the University of Georgia. He was hired to coordinate a certificate program in rehabilitation counseling and direct the newly-awarded federal grant program that was designed to jointly prepare social work and rehabilitation counseling students to serve community members who had either vision or hearing-related disabilities. 

Prior to joining the faculty, Fred was asked to travel to Washington, DC to meet with the grant project officer. That federal official told him that the grant program was slated to be defunded within two years, if not sooner. He advised Fred to start looking for a new faculty position as soon as he arrived in San Diego. 
As has been the case throughout Fred’s professional career, obstacles always become opportunities. 
He immediately set out to create a 60-unit master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling (RC) by converting the 36-unit degree in counseling and combining it with the 24-unit certificate, funded by the grant. The first graduates earned the new degree in 1975. 

As of 2022, there have been more than 1,000 graduates.

Significant contributions 

To list Fred’s accomplishments over the past 50 years would only paint a partial picture of this remarkable leader. Launching the degree program was just the beginning of his efforts to build a workforce committed to expanding opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 
He contributed significantly to rehabilitation education through academic certificates and degrees and professional development activities. 
His networks at the local, state, national and international levels have earned him the reputation of being a wise and generous mentor, a visionary and creative innovator and a skilled boundary crosser across academic disciplines, private and public organizations and governmental agencies. 
In the Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education (ARPE), Fred was instrumental in launching the CCLEAD doctoral degree, the specialization in student affairs master’s degree and the original leadership minor. He taught in each of the programs, and continued to teach while serving as department chair from 1985-1999 and again from 2001-2008. 
Fred is considered one of the leading experts in rehabilitation and disability policy and organizational leadership. By directing the National Rehabilitation Leadership Institute (NRLI), he provides training and executive coaching to leaders and aspiring leaders of state vocational rehabilitation agencies. The 23rd cohort is currently underway. 
As is his way, Fred continues as a source of policy analysis, strategic planning and creative problem solving to anyone he has met through education, training, technical assistance or other more informal interactions at professional conferences. 
Once you’re a colleague of Fred’s, you gain access to his wisdom and experience. 

Founding Interwork

In addition to the many innovative opportunities he created in the rehabilitation counseling discipline as faculty and chair of ARPE, Fred exercised his entrepreneurial spirit by pursuing community partnerships, offering clinical services and always searching for ways to diversify funding in an effort to provide training and employment for RC students. 
Pursuing federal grant funding became the status quo, and served to support the design of many specialization areas in the department, including deafness, disability management, transition, assistive technology, psychiatric rehabilitation and more. Fred’s expertise in writing grant proposals is legendary and became an expectation for all ARPE faculty. 
The Interwork Institute, which he co-founded with Professor Ian Pumpian, became the infrastructure for administering grants through the SDSU Research Foundation. Rather than building a center based on one grant, Interwork incorporates many centers, both time-limited and ongoing, all committed to supporting, appreciating and engaging diverse members in community integration through education, research and advocacy. 
Here’s Ian’s version of how the concept of Interwork Institute was born:
By the time I arrived in San Diego to coordinate programs supporting students with severe disabilities in 1981, Fred had already established quite a reputation as a professional working with agencies that served persons with disabilities. 
However, I felt we had little in common. We came from different schools of thought, so to speak, we worked with and represented agencies that had different orientations and experiences in organizing and providing services. Collaboration between these agencies and their personnel rarely occurred. 
I knew Fred to be a nice guy, but as far as I was concerned, he was in the other camp and for eight years, we never traveled in the same professional circles. We never directly interacted even though his office was across the street from mine on Alvarado Court. 
Then one day I got a call from Fred, inviting a conversation. We literally walked halfway across the street and met in the middle. 
Fred began with his now-recognizable complimentary tone, coupled with a few comments about strategic opportunities we were missing by not considering the common ground we shared, that is, to vastly improve services for people with disabilities. 
We continued our conversation as we walked to a nearby deli for lunch. Our 15-minute encounter turned into a meeting that lasted hours. What I had seen as a non-starter, Fred saw as a bold opportunity to accelerate our work at SDSU and in the disability community. 
Despite my initial skepticism, Fred’s vision made sense. He opened me up to collaborative possibilities that were bold, innovative and appealing. By afternoon’s end, his ideas and vision transformed into our shared vision. That day, SDSU Interwork Institute was born. 

That day, Fred exhibited the values and attributes he has held steadfast for the past 50 years: values driven, uncompromising in his advocacy while quietly charismatic, consistently empathetic, effectively strategic, and extraordinarily personable. 
Since that day, I have come to regard Fred as one of my closest friends, colleagues and confidants. And I know many others describe him the same way. Since that day, Interwork Institute has thrived as one of SDSU’s largest and most successful Institutes. I am so proud to know Fred and so appreciate he had the foresight to meet me in the middle, on Alvarado Court, on common ground. 

Fred Stories

Many ARPE faculty and Interwork staff contributed their “Fred stories” for this article, too many to print in full. What stood out in every testimonial was appreciation for his mentorship and his friendship. He is fiercely loyal to family and friends, and countless people call him their best friend. 
His legacy, unintended due to his humility and not wanting to be in the spotlight, is demonstrated by thousands of students and colleagues who have become successful leaders in their own right. His greatest joy is celebrating their success. 
“Unlike authority figures who garner personal power, Fred strives to empower others through his mentorship. He never denies a request for guidance – whether from an individual student or the head of a national organization.” 
Ron Jacobs, Professor Emeritus 
“His generosity and inclusiveness are unparalleled. His ability to support me and so many others in accomplishing our goals is truly remarkable.” 
Bobbie J. Atkins, Professor Emeritus 
“Fred is a quiet, somewhat introverted man. He typically runs from the spotlight, preferring to stand in the back, encouraging others from the sidelines. His mind never stops and his heart is always open. He rarely takes no for an answer when there’s another solution to be found. He has been known to not only think outside the box, but to throw the box away when it’s no longer useful. He never asks others to do what he would not be willing to do, and is dedicated to making the world more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Above all, I am proud and honored to call him my friend.” 
 —Caren Sax, Professor Emeritus 
“Fred: I am deeply grateful for your friendship and mentorship over the years. It seems that you have been pulling or pushing me since the day I darkened the doors of Interwork, so sure of my skills, even when I had doubts. You’re the consummate mentor.” 
Marjorie Olney, Professor Emeritus 
“Fred: You are an excellent leader, an internationally-known scholar, a great mentor and a dear friend. Under your leadership, we had several rehabilitation professional groups from China come to SDSU for training and we have made several trips together to China, Hong Kong and Japan. The most impressive thing for me was your excellent skills of working with people from totally different cultures. I remember that many Chinese colleagues praised you as a true humanitarian who had a great heart and genuinely wanted to help others.” 
Nan Zhang Hampton, Professor Emeritus 
“It’s been my honor to know Fred for almost 20 of his 50 years at SDSU. Fred has guided me from being a new assistant professor to now serving as the chair of the same department he helped to create. On a more personal level, I will always treasure the many good times at “Interwork West” and being able to talk about things outside of work such as memories of living in Wisconsin, family, the perpetual challenge of being a Packers fan, and simply life in general.” 
Chuck Degeneffe, Chair, ARPE 
“From the moment I met Fred, I knew that I would learn a great deal under his leadership — and not just because of his white hair. He has a ‘soft knowing’ presence that just invites people to rest into his wisdom. From him, I have learned I need to check my intentions before confrontations and I need to spend time envisioning a harmonious solution. When I do remember to practice that, it is true...everyone wins. You will always be my wisdom teacher.” 
Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Professor Emeritus 
“For his staff, students and colleagues, Fred epitomizes what we all would like to be as professionals and advocates in this field: committed, dedicated, sincere, never backing down from a challenge and acting with purpose, determination and integrity. He’s always many steps ahead, as we seek his wisdom and insights. Ever the professor, he pushes us to seek our own solutions, reach beyond our comfort zones and break down those silos. We look up to him, yet he always treats us as his equal and is genuinely interested in what we think.” 
Mari Guillermo, Assistant Professor, ARPE 
“Fred truly cares about the people he works with and does not consider them just people in the department. He cares about me and the people in my family and, if he knows there is some sort of challenge being experienced, he will check in with you to see how you and your family are doing.” 
Kathy Fleming, Interwork staff 
“Fred began as my professor, then my mentor and now my dear friend. His encouragement and belief in my potential stands as the most important driving force in my education and career. Fred has positively impacted nearly every leader in the field of rehabilitation counseling during his career. His intellect and vision have resulted in the creation of programs that continue to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities every day. All of us that have been touched by Fred consider it an honor and a blessing.” 
Chaz Compton, Interwork staff, part-time faculty 
“Fred is the wizard Alpha at the center of Interwork with the power to facilitate magic happening within the University and to instigate policy change at the state and national level. Ultimately, Fred is a good and trusted friend. He is a colleague with whom you can brainstorm, collaborate and implement projects as well as engage in the subtle nuances of policy debate that a good academic relishes. Over the years, I have learned that there is one thing wrong with the sign outside of his door that reads: ‘Nobody Gets In To See The Wizard… Not Nobody, Not No How!’ Everyone gets in to see the wizard because the door is almost always open.” 
Eric Glunt, Interwork staff 
“In my 25-plus years in the business world, or other-world for that matter, I have never come across anyone who possesses Fred’s unique combination of character and leadership skills. He’s demanding, yet patient; persistent, yet kind; curious, yet reserved. He can, in one minute, command a room, in the next minute, fade into the background. These traits explain a recurring phenomenon in my life. Wherever I go, whomever I meet, I hear a common refrain, usually along the lines of, ‘Oh, you know Fred? He’s such a great guy. He made such an impact in my life.’” 
Chris Smith, Interwork staff 
“Fred has been a thoughtful and caring advisor to not only me, but to our entire Creative Support Alternatives project leadership team. He has offered insight and perspective, whether we were looking at further developing our skills, asking ‘the big questions,’ expanding our leadership team depth or formulating responsive solutions to the multitude of challenges we’ve faced (and continue to face) over the years. We are unbelievably fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from him over these years. Fred, we appreciate you more than you know!” 
Mary Ellen Sousa, Director and Founder, Creative Support Alternatives 
“Fred’s contributions, passion and commitment to provide opportunities, improve systems and life outcomes for people with disabilities is extraordinary and has profoundly influenced integrating people with disabilities into everyday life. What is unique about Fred is that he values, respects and understands the family dynamics, parent perspective and how parent organizations can contribute toward improving the quality of life and raise expectations for people with disabilities and their families.” 
Joyce Clark and Lupe Rojas-Sanchez, Co-Directors, Exceptional Family Resource Center

“I'm sure much can be said of all you have contributed to so many. For me, there are many memories of the years when we challenged the status quo and created new opportunities. Most important to each of these adventures was the importance of relationships. So often, our ability to move forward with new ideas was predicated on the relationships we had established and worked to protect. It was never about what we would gain. It was always about what we could create together. It has always been my honor to work with you and have you as my friend.” 
Steve Spencer, former Director of the Center for Pacific Studies

“When I was living in Tokyo in the 1990s, I was accepted into a doc program. I met Fred that first summer when I was at SDSU for summer classes. I remember we had a discussion about distance education and I told him my vision for what I saw coming down the proverbial pike for online education, both in the content and leadership areas. I think he was a bit curious about this as the internet was still very new at the time (think Netscape 1.0) and he encouraged me to pursue my vision. He introduced me to Michelle Warn who was already established in the distance education field and, after I met her, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do for the remainder of my career — designing and teaching in online programs. I am most grateful and appreciative for his continued support throughout the years.”
Theresa Lally, Director, Center for Pacific Studies

“We haven't known each other for long but in the short time I realize how lucky I am to have your guidance and support. Thank you for paving the way for people like me. I appreciate all you have done for me, SDSU and our field. I look forward to many more of our Thursday chats! Cheers to 50 years at SDSU, I am so looking forward to the next 50 by your side!” 
Toni Saia, Assistant Professor, ARPE

“Although I have more recently met Fred in his 50-year career journey, it was immediately clear that his wisdom in disability services and rights is vast, and his passion and energy for community change is unwavering. His impact on individual lives and the community has continued generation after generation using a powerful, but sometimes forgotten, technique of person-to-person connection. Fred is the epitome of social networking to drive change, an inspiration to all and the truest of genuine.” 
Mary Baker-Ericzén, research professor, ARPE

Fred Photos