Don Rothman

To: UCSC Community

From: Kimberly Lau, provost of Oakes College

As some of you may already have heard, Oakes College and our larger campus lost a very special person Wednesday night with the passing of Don Rothman. For almost 40 years, Don — a senior lecturer in writing — brightened the lives of our students, faculty, and staff.

In fact, it is almost impossible to believe this news because Don was so very full of life.  Vibrant, enthusiastic, optimistic, he was literally brimming with a vital and contagious energy that he shared with everyone around him.  You could not be around Don without being enchanted by the twinkle in his eye and the irrepressible grin that lit up his face when he was talking about beauty or love or justice or the amazing students he had encountered, the phenomenal book he had just read, the enlightening person he met on the bus.  People were drawn to the life in Don, and he opened himself up to everyone and everything with characteristic generosity.

This past October, Don gave the opening plenary lecture to the Oakes College core course.  While I expected him to perform brilliantly, I have to admit that I also wondered whether the students would be able to relate to him and to his topic of writing, power, and love.  Of course, I need never have wondered.  Don redefined the “lecture” format and instead transformed the space of the lecture hall — full to the brim with about 375 first-year students — into an intimate and transformative site of meaningful conversation among an incredibly diverse and engaged set of students who spent the last hour-and-a-half waiting their turns to participate in the conversation he initiated.  They couldn’t get enough of him.  And, perhaps more impressively, he couldn’t get enough of them.  Many came up to introduce themselves to him after the talk.  He spoke to each and every one of them, not out of obligation, but out of his genuine love for them; he said the sound of their discussing a question he set to them was music to his ears and he meant it.  When I saw Don a few weeks ago, he mentioned that at least one of the students he met that evening had invited him for coffee and they were continuing some of the night’s conversations.  He was as delighted as the student must have been.

Don touched the lives of many, many people at UCSC, at Oakes College, and beyond.  Among other things, he was founder of the Central California Writing Project, an active supporter of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a mentor to younger faculty teaching writing, a writing coach for underrepresented students in the sciences, a Dreamer, and a visionary.  Don believed in beauty and justice and love.  He believed in difficult conversations and in difference.  He believed that writing could literally change our lives and transform our society.

These beliefs may sound old-fashioned in the face of contemporary social fractures and postmodern sensibilities, but Don always made them feel cutting edge, relevant, even radical.  Three years ago, students invited him to deliver the Oakes commencement address, and amidst a serious downturn in campus morale due to the state budget crisis, he offered what he called a love letter to Oakes College.  It was both a rousing political talk and a moving contemplation; above all, it showcased the power of love in Don’s view of the world.  As Gina Langhout, one of Don’s friends and colleagues, said when she heard of his passing, “I didn't know he had heart problems. I feel compelled to say biological heart problems because he certainly had a large heart in all other ways.”  If there’s one thing nearly everyone has shared about Don, it is how much they admire the size and capaciousness of his heart.  His passing has left us all broken-hearted.


• For more information about Don's life, please see the press release the campus issued today.

• As a nearly 40-year fellow of Oakes College, Chancellor Blumenthal had a long and warm association with Don Rothman. The chancellor included a few reflections this morning on his blog.
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