The Forum

In Memoriam: Linda Frey

December 13, 2022 by Michael B. Poliakoff

The death of Professor Linda Frey of the University of Montana on December 1 is a deep loss to ACTA, to higher education, and to the nation. It was my privilege to have known her as an admired friend for nearly 20 years: I share with her twin sister Professor Marsha Frey the feeling of a hole in my heart. 

Linda never compromised in matters of professional standards, principle, or honor. Her six-year battle with Stage IV cancer, something beyond any medical expectation, was a final glimpse into her indomitable strength of character. 

I first met Linda and Marsha at a conference of The Historical Society in 2004. They were key members of this group of historians dedicated to historical research and teaching that are rooted in the time-honored methods of documents and data, rather than the presuppositions of theory and politics that now increasingly dominate the profession. Both sisters made distinguished contributions to European diplomatic history, and on this particular occasion, they jointly delivered a trenchant analysis of late 18th– and early 19th-century French international relations. During the discussion after their lecture, a member of the audience had the temerity to ask which of the sisters had written a particular section, which drew the response, “we do all our scholarship collaboratively.” And so it was.

Linda’s academic achievements were vast. With her sister, she co-authored 14 books and over 100 academic articles, many of which appeared in a range of European languages. She was a professor for 51 years: at Ohio State University, Denison University, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and finally at the University of Montana, where she taught from 1971 until her retirement in 2019. She was a full professor from 1982 onwards. 

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education sent to the University of Montana a now infamous “Dear Colleague” letter about its expectations for enforcement of Title IX, including extra-judicial procedures that former education secretary Betsy DeVos, to her great credit, subsequently reversed. Most faculty fell over like tin soldiers at the university’s coercive and intrusive demands for compliance with faculty training protocols. Linda Frey, standing on principle, said no. Quietly, civilly, but unwaveringly. If others in the academy had had her courage and vision, we might now be witnessing less of the intrusion from DEI officers that so compromises academic freedom. In the words of a colleague: “If her values seemed old fashioned to some, she held to them tenaciously, whether they were popular or not.”

Professor Linda Frey embodied the principles of academic excellence and academic freedom that are at the core of ACTA’s mission. She set a high standard for citizens of the academy to follow. Rest in peace, dear friend, and despite our sadness, we celebrate the legacy you left to us.


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