Freeman with one of her golden retrievers. Photo courtesy of Freeman’s daughter, Adrienne Freeman

She was a writing instructor. A mentor. A pedagogical inspiration. But students, colleagues and friends just called her Carol.

Carol Freeman, 75, died of an illness at her home on Oct. 21. Freeman laid the foundation for UC Santa Cruz’s writing program, served as Cowell College’s first female provost and represented UCSC at both the campus and systemwide level. 

In spite of her impressive titles, such as senior lecturer with security of employment emerita, Freeman would have wanted to be known as a lecturer, said Freeman’s colleague and friend Roz Spafford. 

In a 2013 oral history recorded by her colleague and former student Sarah Rabkin, Freeman recounted her disapproval of the university’s attempt to hire lecturers at less than half time in 1976. Had it succeeded, the university would have avoided providing benefits for lecturers — relevant to today, when lecturer rights and contract negotiations remain contested issues in the UC system.

“She is known for her integrity, understanding of principle and her belief [in] having good strong principles,” said Merrill College Provost Elizabeth Abrams, a colleague and friend who spoke at Freeman’s memorial service on Nov. 10 at the Calvary Episcopal Church. Abrams followed in Freeman’s footsteps as writing program chair in 2004. 

Freeman arrived in Santa Cruz with her family in 1974. She taught and established UCSC’s educational curricula for 43 years, earning respect from the campus and the UC as a whole. 

Freeman poses with her husband Michael Freeman, who also taught at UCSC. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Freeman

Freeman co-founded the university’s writing program with lecturer Don Rothman in 1976. The program teaches undergraduates how to write and think about rhetoric, laying the foundation for their educational careers. Their model created the bedrock for the colleges’ core courses. 

Alumna Leisette Rodriguez, class of ‘96, remembered taking the Cowell College core course with Freeman as an undergraduate. As a Chicanx and Indian-American student, Rodriguez said she felt like an outlier at the predominantly white school, but found support in Freeman. 

“She was just that kind of person, really driven, and in doing so also ensured that she would always stand up for the rights of others […],” said Rodriguez, who later became a lawyer and instructor at CSU Dominguez Hills. “I knew that she had my back. I knew that I could count on her, and that she would advocate not just for me, but advocate for everyone else to make sure that we had successes.”

Freeman believed administrators should spend time in classrooms to understand how their educational systems influence student experiences, said William Ladusaw, who succeeded Freeman as Cowell College provost in 1997. 

Alumnae Leslie Lopez and Dina El Dessouky, who went on to become UCSC instructors, remember taking courses with Freeman.

“Everything that people said [at the memorial service] today about how she valued people and how she honored them and made us feel like we were the best and that we had something to offer and that we made the university what it was — a place of value for students because of our value,” Lopez said, “I felt that from the beginning.”

For El Dessouky, Freeman and Abrams’ co-taught course, “Teaching Writing,” gave her a foundation to do so herself. El Dessouky has been teaching with UCSC’s writing program since 2012.

“What I offer to my students today emerges directly out of that pedagogical lineage,” El Dessouky said in an email. “So I’ll always remember Carol as a gracious and invested leader of that lineage.” 

Despite her numerous positions within the UC, Freeman reserved time for cooking, baking, backpacking and appreciating classical music. Friends remember her family’s long line of golden retrievers, who were all named after Mozart opera characters. Freeman enjoyed singing throughout her life and sang with the Santa Cruz Chorale and Calvary Choir.

At her memorial service, a small orchestra and choir, many of whom had sung with Freeman, performed a mix of Christian hymns and Baroque pieces behind the church altar. The service program noted that Freeman chose the musical medley herself before her death, a representation of her life and passions. 

After the memorial service, colleague and friend Sarah Rabkin revisited Freeman’s oral history and her connection to her mentor.

“Elizabeth [Abrams] and I were saying this to each other yesterday,” Rabkin said. “She gave me my life. She gave me my professional life. If not for Carol, I would not have had a career teaching writing at UCSC, and I think my story is not at all unique.” 

In lieu of flowers, gifts in Freeman’s name can be sent to the Choral Scholars program at Calvary, which supports local college and university students interested in pursuing music careers.