Remembering Dave Frohnmayer

Letters / Opinions

On the occasion of Dave Frohnmayer’s death on March 9, 2015, Sangeet writes about her personal interactions with him.

University of Oregon

Dave Frohnmayer was a very successful student, who, after graduating from Harvard was awarded a Rhodes scholarship for postgraduate study in Oxford. The paper he wrote for the program concerned the leadership philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, among others. Like many commentators, Frohnmayer blamed Nietzsche for the misuse that Hitler and his Nazis had made of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and declared Nietzsche was ‘evil’. This emotional belief would later influence his contacts with our community.

Being a successful student did not translate into work success in his early years. I first met Dave when I was a student at the University of Oregon School of Law. Having graduated from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, he looked for a position as a professor of Constitutional Law, the most prestigious position at that time on a law school faculty. Instead, he ended up in Oregon, teaching Administrative Law, barely above Legal Writing as the least prestigious position in the school.

He and I did not part friends from the law school. One of Dave’s good friends, who had been hired as a lecturer for the school, was accused of sexism by several first year women, and I was appointed as the student member of the committee to review the complaint. The female students claimed that the lecturer had told them horrific stories, including a story about eating his lunch off “the bloated belly of a dead Jap” during WWII, just before their exams so that they would be too upset to do well. I insisted that the committee recommend his dismissal and he was dismissed.

When I returned to Oregon several years later, it was not in deep friendship with Dave Frohnmayer. Shortly after my graduation he had given up on a prestigious law school career and run for state office. After serving as a state representative he had been elected to the position of Attorney General. It was no secret that this was intended as a stepping stone to the governor’s office.

So it was curiosity and not friendship that led him to make an appointment with me as soon as I contacted him. Sheela misconstrued this and immediately invited me to become a resident, though I was a new sannyasin at the time who had never been to Pune; I’ll always be grateful to him for that. Dave pumped me for information, which I didn’t have (and wouldn’t have given him anyway) and that was the last time we met.

Later I heard from my former classmates, then Oregon lawyers, that Dave had declared that Osho was evil because he had a different understanding of Nietzsche. Dave’s inability to respect a different point of view from a man who was not only an enlightened master, but a philosophy professor much more knowable about philosophy than he, shows why he was only a good student, and not a good scholar. This emotional reaction to Osho’s opinions about Nietzsche, combined with his ambitions for the governor’s office, would shape his approach to our community.

Eventually Frohnmayer’s office filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the land in Rajneeshpuram was owned by a company owned by a religious nonprofit so that the people living there did not have the right to form a city. This, they argued, would be a conflict of church and state under the First Amendment. Frohnmayer was not a stupid man, so he must have known that even if public pressure helped them win the lawsuit in Portland’s District Court, he could not have gotten such an argument past the infamously liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Even if he had won on the argument, the land could have been transferred to a different owner, so the lawsuit could have no real purpose but furthering his political career, or so he hoped. This was also a rare opportunity for him to be involved in a case based on constitutional law, his true love.

We moved on and in 1990 Frohnmayer ran for governor, only to be defeated by Barbara Roberts, the first woman governor of the state.

After this defeat Frohnmayer turned once again to administration and became first the Dean of the law school and then the President of the University of Oregon. Though these positions sound impressive they are basically glorified fundraising positions; and it is here that he found his niche. He was a very successful fundraiser, raising hundreds of millions for construction projects during his 15 years as university president.

During this tenure a University of Oregon sociology professor told me that he criticized her for being “too positive” in her study of the women of Rajneeshpuram (and she wasn’t particularly positive), showing that Dave had still not recognised his shortcomings as a scholar or learned to respect others with more knowledge and experience.

He retired from the university presidency about the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and taught leadership classes at the university and in the law school. He gave lectures on Nietzsche and others, claiming this was a topic he had read about all his life. On his retirement he was given awards by various Oregon groups in recognition of his fundraising successes and is now eulogised as a great Oregon statesman.

I remember him as a man whose intellectual pretensions prevented him from recognizing a truly good man when he saw one.

Related article
  • Dave FrohnmayerDavid (Dave) B. Frohnmeyer died on March 9, 2015 at age 74 in Oregon

Sangeet.TN b-wPrem Sangeet (Sangeet Duchane) trained as an attorney and was the city attorney for Rajneeshpuram and Antelope during the Ranch days, and Osho’s legal representative and researcher in Pune Two. She was also a writer and editor for the Rajneesh/ Osho Times and has been the editor of the Viha Connection for many years. She became involved in the case challenging Osho trademarks in the US in 2000 and worked on the case until it was resolved in 2009. She now lives in northern California, where she works as a writer and editor.

Comments are closed.