Freedman's tenure at the University of Iowa was marked by his support for a $25 million laser research center. In his words, "The University of Iowa can grasp the opportunity for national and world leadership in laser science." Freedman argued that the laser would become a magnet for research grants from Federal and International agencies, and the Iowa legislature appropriated the $25 million necessary to build the center. The center was unable to attract significant research funding, however, after it was completed.
His administration was marked by numerous academic initiatives, a growth of the physical campus, and a strengthening of Dartmouth's graduate programs and professional schools. A small but vocal number of alumni viewed the initiatives the "Harvardization of Dartmouth."
President Freedman established or revitalized programs in Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies; Environmental Studies; Jewish Studies; and Linguistics and Cognitive Science. He introduced or restored the teaching of the Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese languages, founded the Institute of Arctic Studies, and incorporated into the curriculum majors in Women's Studies and African and African-American Studies. During his administration, Dartmouth achieved gender parity in the student body. In the professorial ranks the College led the Ivy League with the highest proportion of women among tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Freedman also presided over the largest capital campaign in Dartmouth's history, the "Will to Excel" campaign, which raised $568 million, exceeding the original $425 million goal. His administration saw the addition of state-of-the-art buildings for the Computer Sciences, Chemistry, and Psychology, as well as The Roth Center for Jewish Life and the Rauner Special Collections Library.
Shortly before he stepped down in 1998, ground was broken for the Baker-Berry Library project, a pioneering model for access to books and electronic information in the 21st century.
The author of Idealism and Liberal Education, Freedman became a spokesman for the importance of the liberal arts.
President Freedman died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma on March 21, 2006.
Some critics believed that Freedman was uninterested in maintaining Dartmouth as an undergraduate college first, a research and graduate university second.
The one event in Freedman's presidency that garnered the most press was the so-called "Hitler Quote" scandal of The Dartmouth Review in 1990. A member of the staff of the controversial conservative weekly paper inserted a quote from Mein Kampf into the masthead of one edition of the paper. This edition of the Review was dated on Yom Kippor, the holiest day in the Jewish year. In the same edition, the paper also printed a drawing of Freedman as Hitler. The paper's editor discovered the quote three days after the paper was distributed, pulled available copies, and issued a campus-wide apology, but the quotation was seen as the latest in a series of attention-getting stunts that were either provocative or offensive depending on the reader's point of view.
In response to the Review's activities, including its publication of the quotation, students and members of Freedman's administration organized a "Rally Against Hate." The rally became a focal point for national conservative criticism of Freedman and of what was seen as "political correctness" generally.
Freedman's administration undertook the building of the "second Green" in an attempt to create a genuine sense of intellectual community at the College.
George Mason law professor Todd Zywicki, a Dartmouth alum (and trustee) later referred to Freedman as a "truly evil man" whose "agenda was to turn Dartmouth into Harvard." One alumnus, noting that the danger of Dartmouth's ever becoming like Harvard was extremely remote, characterized Zywicki's remark as typical of a "brutal philistinism too often associated with the Dartmouth name." Dartmouth's Board of Trustees publicly repudiated any association with Zywicki's sentiments. On December 18, 2007, head of the Board Ed Haldeman (Dartmouth '70) issued a statement noting that "Mr. Zywicki has a apologized to members of the Freedman family and indicated that he would like to retract other parts of his speech." Zywicki was not reelected to the Board.