Prof. Ackerman’s Email

An alumnus has forwarded to The Review a copy of the email Prof. Susan Ackerman ’80 sent on March 7th to attack alumni Trustee petition candidates Peter Robinson ’79 and Todd Zywicki ’88.

In her message, she dismisses arguments for free speech and less administrative bloat as somehow representing “reactionary ideologies” and a nostalgic longing for racism and sexism. She also says that Dartmouth in past years maintained an “anti-intellectual environment,” a claim sure to go over well with the alumni who attended the College then. The email is reproduced below (emphasis added):

Date: 07 Mar 2005 16:04:03 EST
From: Susan Ackerman
Subject: Dartmouth Trustee Election

Dear Friends,

I assume you all received today (as did I), or will receive soon, an announcement from the Association of Alumni that Dartmouth’s Alumni Trustee election is now under way. I write to ask — and indeed beg — you to vote. I know, of course, that many of you are fairly indifferent when it comes to Dartmouth and its affairs, and that there are even some of you have less than fond memories of your time here (e.g., some of you who were here with me during the early days of co-education). Still, I have reason to believe that all of you care about me to some degree or another, and since my professional life is bound up with Dartmouth, I am hoping that you will vote to help make Dartmouth the best place it can be for me and in turn for today’s students.

More specifically: as you will see, there are six names on the Trustee ballot, four nominated by the Alumni Council and two nominated by petition. To be frank, none of the Alumni Council nominees (Cheston, Engles, Lewis, and Welling) excites me all that much, as I am convinced that we most desperately need on our Board representatives who have professional expertise in higher education, rather than expertise in business or law (nine of the Board’s current 15 members hold an M.B.A. or other business degree, as do two of the Alumni Council nominees; three current Board members hold some sort of law degree, as do three of the Alumni Council nominees [if you’re wondering about the math, one of the Alumni Council nominees holds both an M.B.A. and a J.D.]).

Still, any of these Alumni Council nominees is preferable, in my mind, to the two petition candidates (Robinson and Zywicki), as the two petition candidates both represent, as far as I can tell, the same sorts of reactionary ideologies as were represented in last year’s elections by TJ Rodgers. More specifically, both question the College’s commitment to free speech because, for example, the College has disciplined organizations that have printed sexually demeaning and even abusive comments about our female undergraduates; both argue the College over-emphasizes the intellectual experience of our undergraduates in favor of athletics or, more generally, the “well-rounded individual”; both feel that critical positions in Student Services — positions that support, for example, African-American students, Native American students, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, and students of Asian descent — represent not a commitment to helping historically disadvantaged populations succeed at Dartmouth but administrative bloat; both oppose President Wright’s attempts to broaden social options for Dartmouth students beyond fraternities and sororities. Both petition candidates, in short, seem to me to long nostalgically for some “Dear Old Dartmouth” of the past, without admitting the idealized past they crave represents a Dartmouth that was often hard on women, gays and lesbians, and minorities; monolithic in terms of its social life; and fostered an anti-intellectual environment.

Despite my reservations, therefore, I intend to vote for ALL FOUR Alumni Council nominees (which the Trustee voting procedures allow), in the hopes that any one of them will garner more total votes that the petition candidates. I hope you can do the same. If you want more information, I would direct you to:

(2) (Zywicki’s web page about the election)
(3) (Robinson’s web page about the election)
(4) ) a recent article in The D that Zywicki cites with approval).

Ballots must be submitted by April 22, either by mail or electronically. You do need a password and security number to vote electronically, which should be sent to you via e-mail. If it isn’t, or you need help, you can contact

Please feel free to forward this e-mail to other potential voters like yourselves, and thanks for reading, thanks for voting,


The Valley News first got wind of her email two weeks ago.

Update: A reader points out that in 2001 Ackerman condemned Dartmouth’s “president, James Wright, and trustees for not eliminating the Greek system.” This is hardly the “broaden[ing of] social options for Dartmouth students” that she speaks of in her email.