Higher education

University of Northern Iowa President Bill Ruud tasked to repeat performance

'I think he will get things done'

Bill Ruud, president of the University of Northern Iowa, will become president of Marietta College.
Bill Ruud, president of the University of Northern Iowa, will become president of Marietta College.

IOWA CITY — Arriving on the University of Northern Iowa campus in 2013, then-new President Bill Ruud encountered a hurt and divided faculty that months earlier had passed a vote of no confidence in former President Ben Allen.

Three years later, about to begin another new presidency at Marietta College in Ohio, Ruud faces a similar set of circumstances. In July, he’ll succeed former Marietta President Joseph Bruno, who in November announced his resignation after making campuswide cuts and just days before a faculty discussion could have involved a vote of no confidence in his leadership, according to local news outlets.

Former UNI President Allen, like Bruno, made painful faculty and programmatic cuts before his resignation, and upon taking over, Ruud earned praise for healing some of those wounds and uniting a campus that some said was in chaos.

Marietta College board of trustees Chair George W. Fenton told The Gazette on Monday that was part of Ruud’s appeal.

“He had to come into a situation to do some healing and get everyone on the same team,” Fenton said. “And we have the same opportunities here.”

Ruud last week announced plans to leave UNI for Marietta, a private contemporary liberal arts college in southeast Ohio that offers more than 40 majors and minors and reports an enrollment of about 1,100 students from 32 states and more than a half dozen countries.

Five years ago, Marietta enrolled about 1,400 students from more than 40 states and more than 20 countries, and Fenton said the decline has hurt the school’s budget and necessitated cuts. A first round of cuts in the 2013-14 school year affected 20 full-time positions, saving $1.1 million, according to the Marietta Times.

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A second round of cuts announced last fall will eliminate 19 faculty positions over the next two academic years, saving about $1.875 million, according to the report.

“We have had to reduce staff and pare down the faculty in order to match our current enrollment levels,” Fenton said. “With those kinds of changes, you have to go through some difficult times.”

Regarding faculty discord over the cuts and Bruno’s leadership, Fenton said, “In any situation, people are going to be upset with those kinds of decisions.”

“That’s nothing abnormal,” he said.

Ruud last week told The Gazette he was recruited to Marietta earlier this spring, and Fenton said someone nominated him and the search firm working on the project — R.H. Perry & Associates — reached out.

When Bruno announced his resignation, which became official this month at the end of the academic year, institution officials envisioned a much longer process to hire a replacement. School leaders originally planned to choose an interim president by June 1, start the search for a permanent replacement in September, and name a new president by July 1, 2017, according to media reports.

“But when we started to talk to search consultants, they recommended it would be possible and advantageous to begin the search (sooner),” Fenton said. “So we did that in January.”

After developing a profile for a new president and advertising the position, Marietta amassed a pool of 100 to 110 candidates, and Fenton said a 15-member search committee began pursuing their options.

“It was a large pool of applicants,” he said. “Twice as large as we had before.”

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Fenton said search committee members — including eight trustees and several faculty, staff, student, and community members — liked Ruud’s past presidential experience and history “coming into a situation that, to some extent, required a turnaround.”

“His poise, his communication with the community, his openness, his personality — all those things were appealing,” he said.

Some raised questions about Ruud’s lack of experience with private institutions.

“But he understands higher education well, and I think those things will translate well to our institution,” Fenton said.

When Iowa’s Board of Regents hired Ruud in 2013, it gave him a three-year contract and subsequent annual raises, including a 2.5 percent salary boost in August to $357,110. But the board hadn’t extended his contract, which expires June 1.

At its upcoming June meeting, The board is scheduled to conduct annual presidential evaluations, which often involve contract discussions and pay raises. Now, it also will be tasked with naming an interim UNI president and outlining the forthcoming search for a permanent replacement.

During Ruud’s tenure, he turned around a declining enrollment trend with fall 2015 numbers hovering near 12,000 and representing increases in total students, first-year students, transfer students and graduate students.

Fundraising also was on the upswing, with more than $50 million coming in since Ruud arrived, according to Marietta officials. Fenton said his institution is hoping Ruud brings some of those fundraising skills as well.

“We need to tell our story better and do a better job of marketing,” he said. “But our major challenge will be to get enrollment growing. That will be job one.”

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Job two for Ruud will be addressing fundraising and increasing the endowment “in order to provide more security and flexibility in terms of program support,” according to Fenton.

And, again, there’s the task of unifying the campus.

“I think that he has a penchant for both including people in decisions and also a penchant for action,” Fenton said. “I think he will listen but he will not delay. I think he will get things done.”

Ruud told The Gazette he was excited by the challenge Marietta posed and his contract at UNI — or lack thereof — has nothing to do with his departure.

“I became convinced that, at this point in my career, it’s a perfect opportunity to go and do what we did here at UNI in terms of growing enrollment and really developing some great curriculum moving forward,” he said.

For the brief period between Bruno’s departure May 13 and Ruud’s arrival July 3, Tim Cooper is serving as interim Marietta president. Cooper, who served on the board of trustees from 1994 to 2004, said Marietta is internationally renowned for having the only liberal arts-based petroleum engineering undergraduate programs, and it boasts one of Ohio’s top education programs.

But, he said, “Like all small colleges, we are facing declines.”

“Our efforts are focused on attracting talented students, as well as retaining them,” he said. “As a member of the board and as a proud alumnus, I look forward to working with them to progress the college.”

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