Ludman’s legacy: 37 years at Emerson College

by Bret Hauff / Beacon Staff • April 23, 2015

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Ronald Ludman, dean of students
Ronald Ludman, dean of students

Updated May 6 with the second of two parts

Two campuses, four presidents, and over 100,000 students – this is a snapshot of the 37-year tenure of recently announced retiree, Dean of Students Ronald Ludman.

Ludman’s goals he had set for himself upon his inauguration as dean in 1982, according to Beacon archives, would become pillars in his extended career: to holistically recognize and accommodate students and dissolve the rift he saw between them and the administration.

Now 63, Ludman is a native of Brooklyn, New York, where he spent the majority of his youth. Ludman’s parents were not college graduates, but he said he had been raised to esteem learning.

“One of the things my parents instilled in me very early on in life is the value of an education, and the importance of how education can help shape someone’s life in very positive and meaningful ways,” he said.

Ludman attended the University at Albany, State University of New York, for his bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy, serving as a resident assistant his senior year. After a summerlong cross-country camping trip, he returned to the university for the counseling and personnel graduate program.

“I really enjoyed the study of psychology and what made people tick, working with people of all ages,” Ludman said. “But I found college students to be the most interesting.”

Ludman began his career at Clarkson College, now Clarkson University, in upstate New York working as a career counselor, according to Emerson’s website.

He joined Emerson College in 1978 as director of the career center, correlating with his duties at Clarkson. While at Emerson, Ludman obtained his doctorate degree in higher education administration from Boston College.

By 1982, Ludman had quickly ascended through the administrative ranks to the role of dean of students, succeeding Oliver “Woody” Woodruff.

Woodruff was one of three administrative officials to resign in five weeks to attain new positions outside of Emerson in 1982. During this time of turmoil for the college, Ludman began in his role as dean of students, where he would serve for 33 years, according to Beaconarchives.

“Ron’s longevity speaks not only to his abilities as a dean of students, but also his qualities as a human being to get along with folks,” said longtime assistant professor and friend, Michael Brown.

Upon inauguration, Ludman said he assumed responsibility over a wide swath of campus services, from athletics to spiritual life—duties that would come to define his long-established career at Emerson.

Early career as dean of students (1982-99)

Emerson was a much smaller school when Ludman took office as dean of students –– it had only 1,571 undergraduates and 190 graduate students, according to President M. Lee Pelton’s email announcement of Ludman’s retirement.

“One of the things that was very special to me early on was I almost had the capacity to know all the students,” Ludman said.

Ludman said he worked more directly with the Student Government Association, serving as adviser to the student group for many years after his inauguration as dean.

“Over time as my portfolio grew, my responsibilities grew, I started to share that responsibility [with SGA] with the associate dean of students,” Ludman said.

Ludman said he quickly recognized that the off-campus counseling services were inadequate and, with the help of former president Allen E. Koenig, established an on-campus counseling center.

Early in his career, Ludman oversaw athletics from 1982, at the time of his inauguration as dean, until 1996, when athletics was officially recognized as a separate department, according to Beacon archives.

In 1985, the drinking age in Massachusetts shifted from 20 to 21, causing an uproar in the Emerson community and prompting the college to re-evaluate its alcohol policy, according to Beacon archives.

Ludman, assisted by a drug and alcohol educator, as he recalled, evaluated and invented a stricter policy on alcohol at the college.

This policy became the framework for how Emerson’s alcohol policy would take form over the course of the next 30 years, according to Ludman.

“It won’t be a dry campus,” Ludman was quoted in a 1985 Beacon article, “but there won’t be functions with undergraduates where alcohol is served.”

Students soon became weary of alcohol-related events, such as “The Tavern,” a Greek life-sponsored on-campus social serving beer and wine.

The early 1990s saw an spate of four sexual assault cases at Emerson, according to Beacon archives. These instances came under intense scrutiny due to an apparent lack of communication between administrators and the rest of the college’s community.

“The college did not believe that the students were at risk by not knowing [about sexual assault cases],” Ludman told the Beacon in 1991.

When asked for this article, Ludman initially said he could not recall these sexual assault instances or his reaction to them. After reviewing the cases, Ludman said the four assaults had all been committed by the same person in the same year. The college had identified the perpetrator and was taking action, he said, and thus the college believed perpetrator posed no further threat to students.

In response, according to Beacon archives, Emerson created a sexual harassment task force. Today, Emerson’s sexual assault response and prevention policies are overseen by the Violence Prevention and Response office.

Before this task force, students were encouraged to see Ludman, among others, in instances of sexual misconduct, according to Beacon archives. Cases involving sexual misconduct are now handled by an official dedicated to the federal gender equity law Title IX, according to Ludman.

In April 1998, Ludman proudly announced that “the college has made significant headway in opening up the campus and removing barriers for students with physical disabilities,” installing automatic doors and elevators in accordance with Emerson’s non-discrimination clause, according to Beacon archives.

The new millennium was just around the corner—and with it, a new set of initiatives by Ludman.

 

Modern Career (2000-2015)

Emerson had previously given on-campus housing preference to seniors, not underclassmen. Switching that priority was one of the first initiatives to come out of Ludman's office in the 21st century.

“The most vulnerable and at-risk students, perhaps the students that need a more structured living, were the younger students,” Ludman said.

During the college’s gradual transition from Back Bay to its current location around the Common, Ludman said he also worked with architects to create spaces for students to socialize and for campus organizations.

In 2008, after looking at data the college had collected, Ludman said he led upgrades of the health center and psychological services.

“We needed more space and more staff, and we were able to do both,” he said.

That year, SGA also approached Ludman about a proposed change to the college’s alcohol policy, which would allow students to report medical incidents caused by alcohol or drugs, without being punished for breaking the rules. Ludman approved this new policy, called medical amnesty, in 2009.  

“The purpose of [medical amnesty] really is to reduce harm to encourage students to seek help for themselves or a friend that may be in trouble from overindulgence,” Ludman said.

In 2012, Pelton created a task force—called the Athletics Working Group—to revitalize an athletic department that was in what he called “a state of disrepair.” Pelton appointed Ludman as the chair.

“He did a magnificent job, as I would have expected him to do,” Pelton said.

The Athletics Working Group helped Emerson move into the tougher New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference; conduct a nationwide search for a new athletic director, eventually hiring Patricia Nicol; and renovate the fitness center.

But Emerson also came under scrutiny in 2013 after several students filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging the college violated Title IX, a federal gender equity law, by mishandling their sexual assault cases.

“We had a very dim, dark light on the subject, and now it’s a much brighter light,” Brown said in reference to Title IX requirements to report sexual assault. “So we’re finding out things that maybe we didn’t want to know about before and now we do.”

In 2014, two former students filed lawsuits against Emerson for allegedly mishandling their rape cases, naming as defendants the college and several administrators, including Ludman. Emerson is seeking to dismiss both lawsuits.

In the case that was filed first and has progressed farther, a defense lawyer for the college recently argued Ludman should be removed as a defendant because the lawsuit barely mentions him. The lawyer for the former student did not contest this request.

Ludman declined to comment on these cases, citing student privacy rights and laws.

 

Legacy

Ludman’s retirement is officially slated for June 30, and students said they will miss what they called his sincere interest in their academic careers.

Michael Cantalupo, a junior visual and media arts major, said Ludman advised and participated in his TV and video projects.

“I was excited and happy for him to hear that he was retiring,” Cantalupo said, “but also a little sad to hear for other students that they may not be able to enjoy his time and his tenure as a dean.”

After leaving Emerson, Ludman said he plans to work on his garden in Needham, Massachusetts, travel, and polish his golf skills.

“It’s time for me to think about spending more time with my family and looking at the next chapter of my life,” Ludman said.

He said he intends to keep busy, too, and plans to explore various options: consulting part-time for higher education institutions, advising high school students about college, or working at a search firm to recruit university administrators.

“Those are some areas I think I have the skills and experience to do,” Ludman said.

Ludman said he has received emails and letters from alumni congratulating him on his retirement and recalling their relationships with him.

“Most profound is the relationship and interactions I’ve developed with students—and now many alums—over the years,” Ludman said.

Elizabeth Rossi, who graduated from Emerson in 1989, said she remembers her time at the college and with Ludman “like it was yesterday,” and was surprised to see him last semester when dropping off her son, freshman visual and media arts major Lorenzo Rossi.

“He was really nice,” said Rossi, who was a resident adviser during her time at Emerson. “I liked him then and now.”

This multigenerational tenure is what sets Ludman apart, said Brown.

“I can’t imagine someone doing that job for all those years—the 21st century is different from the 1990s; the 1990s are different from the 1980s. Issues are different; society is different; problems are different,” Brown said. “Ron broached all of those things.”

After spending over half his life in higher education, Ludman said he has enjoyed his career.

“It’s been an incredible journey for me, personally and professionally,” Ludman said. “I really feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with some incredible colleagues across the administration and throughout the faculty.”

 

Dina Kleiner contributed reporting for this story.

Correction, April 23: A previous version incorrectly stated Ludman's age and the institution from which he recieved his doctorate. He is 63, not 62, and he recieved his doctorate from Boston College, not Boston University.
Correction, May 6: A previous version incorrectly stated Ludman said the sexual harassment task force from the 1990s was disbanded.
Update, May 6: After reviewing the four sexual assault cases in the 1990s, Ludman provided an updated comment.