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In Memoriam: James O. Freedman

President Emeritus of Dartmouth
James O. Freedman

James O. Freedman, 15th President of Dartmouth College (1987-1998) and an influential leader in American higher education, died March 21, 2006, at age 70.
He died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., after a courageous struggle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

President James Wright says, "Jim Freedman was a good and generous friend, and Susan and I are greatly saddened by this loss. In his 11 years as Dartmouth's president he affirmed and extended the College's commitment to providing a premier liberal arts program and to excellent graduate schools. He left Dartmouth stronger and more confident than ever, and he was an eloquent national spokesman for the value of liberal learning. The Dartmouth community extends its condolences to Sheba Freedman, to Jared and Deborah, and to all members of his family."

Mr. Freedman was born September 21, 1935, in Manchester, N.H., where his father taught high school English and his mother was an accountant. Following his graduation from Central High School, he attended Harvard University where he received a bachelor's degree cum laude in 1957. He then worked as a reporter for the Manchester Union Leader before attending Yale Law School. He graduated cum laude in 1962 and immediately began serving as a law clerk to then-U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Thurgood Marshall. He followed this with a year as an associate for the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School where he was named dean in 1979. In 1982, he was appointed president of the University of Iowa, in which capacity he served for five years. After a career of impressive achievements in the fields of law and higher education, he joined the Wheelock Succession as Dartmouth's 15th president in 1987.

James Wright and James Freedman
President Freedman transfers the Wentworth Bowl to his longtime friend and colleague, James Wright, at Wright's inauguration in 1998. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

During his 11 years at Dartmouth, Mr. Freedman took an active role in shaping the College as it exists today. His administration was marked by numerous academic initiatives including the most comprehensive overhaul of the Dartmouth curriculum in more than 70 years with more rigorous course requirements across eight major fields; the creation of new departments; introduction or reinstatement of the study of the Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese languages; and an expansion of foreign study opportunities.

During his presidency, the college had 11 years of balanced operational budgets, its endowment surpassed the $1 billion mark, and its valued policy of need-blind admissions continued. Gender parity in the student body was achieved by 1995 and, in the professorial ranks, the College led the Ivy League with the highest proportion of women among tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Mr. and Mrs. Freedman
Mr. and Mrs. Freedman are entertained by Dartmouth Outing Club members at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. (Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Library)

While he was president, Dartmouth was ranked first in commitment to undergraduate teaching by presidents, provosts and deans of admission of colleges and universities nationwide in a 1995 U.S. News and World Report ranking. In 1988, he established the Presidential Scholars Program that gives 60 juniors and seniors each year the opportunity to work side-by-side with Dartmouth's top scholars and researchers on individual research projects. He encouraged the creation of The Institute for Life-Long Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD), a link between Dartmouth and the Upper Valley community, and supported the Women in Science Project (WISP) in 1990, a program that, in five years, more than doubled the percentage of first-year women choosing a science major. Mr. Freedman was a lifelong defender of the value of diversity and, during his presidency, three new programs were established to help increase the number of minority Ph.D. recipients at Dartmouth. He also established the E.E. Just Program designed to increase the number of minority undergraduates majoring in the sciences.

In 1996 Mr. Freedman completed the most successful capital campaign in Dartmouth's history, raising $568 million, exceeding the original $425 million goal. Those resources helped improve the College's physical plant. A number of much-needed new academic and student facilities, including the Burke Laboratory, Sudikoff Laboratory, the Roth Center for Jewish Life, and Byrne Hall were built, and he oversaw the planning for the Berry Library, Moore Hall, the renovation of the Collis Student Center, and the establishment of Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall.

Mr. Freedman's primary teaching and scholarly interests were administrative law and higher education. He authored the books Crisis and Legitimacy: The Administrative Process and American Government, published by Cambridge University Press in 1978; Idealism and Liberal Education, published by the University of Michigan Press in 1996; and Liberal Education and the Public Interest, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2003; and numerous articles and reviews in scholarly journals in the United States and Europe. Just prior to his death, he completed a personal memoir that will be published by Princeton University Press later this year. In addition to his scholarly work, Mr. Freedman was active in many educational and professional organizations. He was a member of the American Law Institute, the American Antiquarian Society, the board of directors of the Salzburg Seminar, and the Dean's Advisory Council of the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University, and served as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the time of his death, Mr. Freedman sat on the boards of Brandeis University, the American Jewish Committee, and Hebrew Union College.

He was the recipient of numerous honors throughout his life. In 1976, when he was awarded the Fellowship for Independent Study and Research by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. Freedman served as a visiting fellow at Clare Hall and was a member of the law faculty at Cambridge University. In 1991, he received The William O. Douglas First Amendment Freedom Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and in 1996, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. In 1998, he was chosen to give the Francis Greenwood Peabody Lecture by Harvard University, and in 1999 he was chosen by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to give the Margaret MacVicar Memorial Lecture. From 1999 to 2000, he served as the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and in 2000 he received the Hon. David A. Rose Civil Rights Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. In 2003, he was the recipient of the National Distinguished Leadership Award, American Jewish Committee. He received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, including Cornell College, Mount Holyoke College, Dartmouth College, Brown University, Brandeis University, Tufts University, and the University of New Hampshire. In 1998, Norman E. "Sandy" McCulloch, Jr. '50 and his wife, Dorothy, established the James O. Freedman Presidential Professorship that is held today by government professor Richard Ned Lebow.

Both during his tenure at Dartmouth and in the years since, Mr. Freedman was an impassioned voice in a range of forums. In his role as a respected advocate on behalf of liberal arts education and of equal opportunity and affirmative action in higher education, his writings were published by a number of major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. In his last book, Liberal Education and the Public Interest (2003), Mr. Freedman issued a call to college and university presidents to lend their voices in support of the liberal arts.

After he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the spring of 1994, Mr. Freedman used the experience to render emotional aid to other cancer victims and to share important lessons the experience taught him. Though a very private person, he nevertheless spoke of the challenges of dealing with cancer in a moving speech at Dartmouth's 1994 commencement, in a chapter of his book, Idealism and Liberal Education, and in an article published in the Boston Globe in 1996. Also that year, The Wellness Community--Greater Boston presented Freedman its annual Gilda Radner Award, recognizing an individual who has inspired cancer patients through his or her fight with the disease.

Mr. Freedman is survived by his wife, Bathsheba Freedman; their daughter Deborah, a managing attorney with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia; their son, Jared, a partner with Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C.; and four grandchildren, Isaac, Jacob, Sasha, and Noah.

A funeral service was held Thursday, March 23 at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Mass. A memorial service will be held at Dartmouth in the spring, on a date to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Bathsheba A. Freedman Scholarship Fund at Dartmouth, Dartmouth College Gift Recording Office, 6066 Development Office, Hanover, NH 03755; the oncology department at Massachusetts General Hospital, in care of the Development Office, 165 Cambridge St., Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114; or the American Jewish Committee, 165 East 56th Street, New York, NY 10022.

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Last Updated: 12/17/08