University Mourns Loss of Second President, Dr. Robert H. Rutford

Editors’ Note: This feature appears as it was published in the winter 2020 edition of UT Dallas Magazine. Titles or faculty members listed may have changed since that time.
A black and white photo of a young Robert Rurford wearing a coat with a fur-lined hood.

Dr. Robert H. Rutford, former president of The University of Texas at Dallas, died Dec. 1, 2019. He served as president from 1982 to 1994 and was named president emeritus by the UT System Board of Regents in 2007.

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.

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.

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.

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. After two years of service, he returned to the University of Minnesota to earn his doctoral degree in geology. He held faculty positions at the University of South Dakota and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was vice chancellor for research and graduate studies and interim chancellor before accepting the position as president of UT Dallas.

Mount Rutford.

In 2007 the U.S. Geological Survey named the highest peak in the Craddock Massif of the Ellsworth Range Mount Rutford.

A Remembrance from David Williamson BS’98, MS’02, MS’03

Vice President of Geoscience, Monadnock Resources

I have lots of favorite memories of my time at UT Dallas and, as importantly, of my time as an involved alumnus in the years postgraduation. I remember fondly passing a certain photograph that hung on the foyer wall in the Founders Building, where my department — geosciences — used to reside. The photo, in black and white, was of a young, confident, steel-jawed explorer.

Rutford and Williamson together.

His name was Robert Rutford.

After conducting pioneering research in Antarctica, he would later go on to helm the presidency of our University. He helped transform UT Dallas into the beloved institution we all enjoy and take pride in today. Yet, it was that photo that I passed so often that inspired me so much as a geosciences student working my way through college toward a degree. I wanted to become like him.

During my time as both an undergraduate and later as a graduate student pursuing dual master’s degrees in geosciences and geographic information sciences, I needed that periodic inspiration boost — the journey was at times hard. Years later, UTD would confer upon me the 2013 Green and Orange Award for Alumni Service. By my side, the man who accompanied me onto the stage, was none other than President Rutford. Receiving that award is a cherished memory of mine.

So, I suppose things have now come full circle. I was inspired by an earth scientist who carved out a name for himself and then desired to give back to future generations in big ways. I, too, am always trying to leave my mark on my science, and I certainly take great pride and satisfaction in giving back to UTD and the newer generations of geosciences students whenever and however I can.