UCSB professor William Freudenburg has always garnered strength from teaching students and working with colleagues, and even today as he battles cancer, he continues to inform and inspire the campus.
Last spring, Freudenburg, a professor in the Environmental Studies Dept., was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his bile duct. As pointed out by friend and colleague Eric Zimmerman, the survival rate for this type of cancer is low. However, Freudenburg continues to combat the cancer with chemotherapy.
Environmental studies professor Mel Manalis said his colleague’s positive spirit is an inspiration.
“His illness is tragic and a deep concern for me, but Bill is still teaching as if he’s won, which I am in complete awe of,” Manalis said. “That takes a lot of guts.”
Freudenburg boasts an impressive resume, ranging from a Ph.D. from Yale University to positions held in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. While these titles speak volumes about Freudenburg, what they cannot portray is the sheer passion, energy and excitement Freudenburg devotes to his teaching. Additionally, what cannot be found in biographies outlining Freudenburg’s achievements is his brave decision to continue teaching amid a shocking diagnosis.
Still, Freudenburg keeps his head up and his wit sharp, often making light of the illness he combats.
“I’m learning that ‘chemo brain’ is not just a theory, but it’s my excuse for everything nowadays,” Freudenburg said.
Zimmerman, the academic advisor for the Environmental Studies Dept., said Freudenburg remains humble and hardworking even in the face of the education system’s turmoil and the throes of his battle with cancer.
“Especially during a time when UCSB is cutting back on courses and faculty are complaining about furloughs and teaching loads, he is willing to still teach while on medical leave and fighting cancer,” Zimmerman said.
While Freudenburg admits his commitment to teach this quarter proved more of a challenge than he had previously thought, he refuses to abandon the classroom.
“As irritated as I am at the [state] senators — most of whom got their education when taxes covered it almost entirely, which I find pretty hypocritical — I didn’t feel it right to take out my frustration with the elected officials on the students,” Freudenburg said.
Freudenburg’s most recent achievement is the publication of his book, Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow, which analyzes the factors and implications of Hurricane Katrina, explained in part by Freudenburg’s double diversionary hypothesis. Although Katrina is often viewed as a case of nature striking people, Freudenburg argues that it is more accurately a case of people striking nature, mostly concentrated in the 1960s.
“So what I think we need to focus on is: ‘Where did these problems come from?’ which is what we try to do in the book,” Freudenburg said. “We use what happens in New Orleans as a kind of example, a story that has implications for those of us who don’t live in New Orleans.”
Freudenburg has taught Environmental Science 1, a popular lower division course, for the past seven years.
“In Freudenburg’s class, you learned a lot of things that were a bit disheartening, but Freudenburg himself always left you feeling positive and encouraged as if you could change things and there was a real possibility that things would get better,” Whitney Reyes, a second-year environmental studies major, said.
This sentiment — the possibility for things to get better — seems to be Freudenburg’s motivation. Freudenburg said he has high hopes for the Environmental Studies Dept. at UCSB as he begins to close that chapter of his life.
“It bothers me that so much of ES is the doom and gloom and that we’ve got to save the world right away or it’s hopeless,” Freudenburg said. “What I hope for the ES Department is well educated, good citizens who make a difference in the world over the years ahead. And also, for this ES program to change ES programs everywhere, because there are some things people have to understand that haven’t penetrated their thick skulls out there.”