Fred Harrington was serving as vice president of the university when President Elvehjem died and had just accepted the presidency of the University of Hawaii, but the regents persuaded him to stay at Wisconsin as president, a position he had narrowly missed out on four years earlier. He was inaugurated on October 20, 1962, in a ceremony also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Morrill Land-Grant Act.
Fred Harrington was born on June 24, 1912, in Watertown, New York. He received his BA from Cornell University in 1933 and an MA (1934) and PhD (1937) in history from New York University. In 1937 he came to Wisconsin as an assistant professor in the Department of History.
In 1940 Harrington went to the University of Arkansas on a Guggenheim fellowship, but he returned to Wisconsin in 1944, became a full professor in 1947, and served as chair of the Department of History from 1952 to 1955. Harrington was appointed assistant to the president in 1957, vice president of academic affairs in 1958, and vice president of the university in June 1962.
After taking the presidency, Harrington decided that the university had become too large and complex to run effectively, and he reorganized the university in 1963/64, creating a central administration and administrations for the individual campuses (Madison, Milwaukee, and University Centers).
During his presidency two new four-year campuses were added to the university, Green Bay and Parkside, as were several two-year University Centers, and Harrington laid the groundwork for the merger of the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Universities, to come in the early 1970s.
He also presided over the early part of the difficult Vietnam War years at Wisconsin, including the Sterling Hall bombing. The disturbances on campus, along with increased difficulty in getting state appropriations and run ins with the regents, led him to resign the presidency in May 1970, effective October 1. After leaving office, Harrington served as a Ford Foundation advisor in India and occasionally taught history at UW-Madison. He died on April 8, 1995, in Madison.