- About UT Dallas
- Campus Life
University Mourns Loss of Dr. Robert H. Rutford, UT Dallas’ 2nd President
Rutford Guided UTD Through Undergrad Expansion, Development of Student Housing, Jonsson School
Dec. 1, 2019
Dr. Robert H. Rutford, former president of The University of Texas at Dallas, died Dec. 1, 2019.
Dr. Robert H. Rutford
Rutford served as president of UT Dallas from 1982 to 1994 and was named president emeritus by the UT System Board of Regents in 2007.
“This is a tremendous loss to the University and to all those who have known Bob and his larger-than-life personality. He was a celebrated researcher and academic, an outstanding leader, a treasured friend, and a pivotal force in the growth and the drive for excellence at UT Dallas. His incredible career leaves an indelible mark on this campus,” said Dr. Richard C. Benson, UT Dallas president and holder of the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership. “Despite our sense of loss during this time, we can all take some solace in the well-lived life and achievement of this very special man.”
During his tenure as UT Dallas’ second president, Rutford guided the University through several transformative changes including adding freshman and sophomore students in 1990 and developing the first on-campus student housing. Rutford also provided direction and support for the founding of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
“Dr. Rutford was an esteemed scientist and leader when he came to UT Dallas and, under his leadership, the campus began looking like it does today — with a diverse student body and a broader focus on important research,” said Dr. Inga Musselman, provost, vice president for academic affairs and holder of the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair of Academic Leadership.
Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, UT Dallas Distinguished Scholar in Residence, was hired by Rutford in 1992 to be the University’s vice president for academic affairs. Wildenthal said that because of political opposition, UT Dallas commenced operations in 1969 with two crippling constraints: The new University was forbidden to enroll freshman and sophomore students and was forbidden to teach engineering.
“Those same constraints still handicapped the University in 1982 when Robert Rutford assumed the presidency,” Wildenthal said. “The UT Dallas of today exists because under his leadership both of these constraints were abolished, thus making possible our outstanding full-time, four-year undergraduate student body and our highly ranked Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.”
Rutford’s research interests were in the fields of glacial geology and geomorphology, primarily in Antarctica. Beginning in the late 1950s, Rutford embarked on more than two dozen treks to Antarctica. Mount Rutford, located in the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica, is named for him as is the 130-mile-long Rutford Ice Stream.
Rutford participated in the groundbreaking for the first engineering school building at UT Dallas in 1987 with University co-founders J. Erik Jonsson (left) and Cecil H. Green.
He was a member of the Polar Research Board of the National Research Council, and in 1975 he became the director of the Division of Polar Programs for the National Science Foundation. While at the NSF he received the Distinguished Science Medal, the highest award given by the NSF. In 1986, he was appointed as the U.S. delegate to the international Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
After earning his doctoral degree in geology from the University of Minnesota, he served in various faculty positions at the University of South Dakota and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he served as vice chancellor for research and graduate studies and interim chancellor before accepting the position as president at UT Dallas.
“I was looking and had interviewed at several universities, but the uniqueness of this place and the opportunity … when you came here then, you interviewed with Erik Jonsson and Cecil Green and the local people here,” Rutford said in a 2009 interview. “I mean it was clear that this place had fantastic backing from the community. So I just saw it as a wonderful opportunity to become a university president. I was very happy when I was named.”
“This is a tremendous loss to the University and to all those who have known Bob and his larger-than-life personality. He was a celebrated researcher and academic, an outstanding leader, a treasured friend, and a pivotal force in the growth and the drive for excellence at UT Dallas. His incredible career leaves an indelible mark on this campus.”
While at UT Dallas, Rutford was active in community affairs in Dallas and served on the boards of both the Richardson and North Dallas Chambers of Commerce and on the Plano Economic Development Board.
“He was a leader in the community and, out of the public eye, he provided stalwart support for me as we embarked upon our unique and innovative Academic Excellence Scholarship Program in 1993, never flinching as it succeeded beyond our most optimistic expectations,” Wildenthal said.
Rutford, a Minnesota native, was born in 1933. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography in 1954 from the University of Minnesota, where he lettered in football and track. After graduating, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He married Margie Johnsen in 1954 and the two had three children. After two years in the Army, he returned to Minnesota as a graduate student.
Rutford Avenue on the UT Dallas campus is named in his honor, recognizing his accomplishments in developing the University into an outstanding center of excellence in research and teaching.
As part of the University’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2009, Rutford returned to campus for the Panel of Presidents, which included his successors Dr. Franklyn Jenifer and Dr. David E. Daniel.
Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].