His grandfather was a novelist and his father was a journalist. A.G. Rud also writes – about philosophy and education – but his career path more closely followed that of his mother, an educator. Last August, Rud was appointed dean of the WSU College of Education.
During a recent interview, he talked about his plans to support research in the college, what concerns and inspires him about American schools, and the egalitarian nature of campus parking.
How does WSU compare with Indiana’s Purdue University, your last employer?
Both are land-grant institutions, so when I came here I was familiar with that structure and the values that it reflects. But the Pullman campus has about half the enrollment of Purdue.
It’s really nice to be at a smaller institution. The atmosphere here is more relaxed and less hierarchical. As a small example, I was told when I first visited the campus that parking is very democratic here. Students or anyone who wants to pay can buy the best parking passes. That certainly wasn’t the case at Purdue.
What appealed to you about the dean’s job?
After the search firm contacted me, I was immediately impressed by the fact that the College of Education has a strong, unified presence on four statewide campuses. That’s unusual, and wonderful. I also was impressed by the quality of the faculty and the beautiful landscape.
After 16 years at Purdue, I was ready for a new challenge.
Oh, and WSU is known widely for the work of someone I greatly admire – the late Leo Bustad, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, who pioneered research on the human-animal bond. I’ve always been fascinated by pets and how people relate to them.
WSU also is known for its agriculture and science programs. How does the College of Education fit into the academic landscape?
A college of education is a vital part of any land-grant institution, because the quality of teachers and school leaders is of paramount importance to state residents. That said, our college is relatively small and we must collaborate with other units to get things done.
For example, we’re part of the university’s health sciences leadership team. We have faculty who are co-principal investigators on grants with engineering and architecture researchers. And we have a major role in Project Lead the Way, a nationally known engineering and biomedical sciences education program with an affiliate led by education faculty at WSU Spokane.
These are tough financial times. Yet the College of Education has created a new management position, the associate dean for research and external funding.
Yes, and we plan to hire a grant writer. We need to build our research capacity and emphasize the good things we’re doing in research. That is in keeping with the university’s strategic plan.
It is also necessitated by these tough financial times, because in order to keep good faculty and offer good graduate programs, we need government grants and foundation support. So, while we don’t want to lose our emphasis on excellent teaching – we need to support and celebrate that – we also need to raise our research profile.
Budget cuts have decreased the number of students the College of Education can admit to its undergraduate teacher education program. Is that program in jeopardy?
No. Teacher education will always be a priority at the College of Education. But we’re going to be more in tune with the needs of our nation by doing a better job of preparing teachers in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, mathematics. We want any Washington student who is thinking about a teaching career, and has a particular interest in math and science, to think first of WSU.

Last year, the College of Education suspended admissions to its Ph.D. and master’s programs in higher education administration. What’s the future of those programs?

We’re evaluating ways to continue that important work, despite having lost higher education faculty members we can’t afford to replace. One thing we’re looking at is adding a strand within our doctor of education (Ed.D.) program that’s devoted to higher education administration. We already offer Ed.D. specializations in K-12 educational leadership and teacher leadership.
Your own degrees are in religion and philosophy, and you’re a professor of education. Are you first and foremost a philosopher or an educator?

I really see myself as a philosopher of education. I look at the cultural context of education. How do social factors play into what we learn and what we value about education?

You co-edited the 2009 book “John Dewey at 150,” and you are the former editor of Education and Culture, the international journal of the John Dewey Society. Was Dewey the philosopher who most affected your thinking?

Well, he’s high on the list. Dewey, who lived from 1859 to 1952, was called the philosopher of democracy. He defined democracy not just as a type of government, but as a way of living, of knowing, of learning from others. He also emphasized the context of learning – how what we learn is affected by our particular historical situation, our family life, what we’ve learned before we even get to the classroom.
See a video of Dean Rud talking about Dewey here.
Your latest book is “Albert Schweitzer’s Legacy for Education.” Wasn’t Schweitzer a doctor?
Yes. Most people who know about Schweitzer – he died in 1965 – picture him as a European clad in white who founded a hospital in a remote African jungle. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy, which he called “Reverence for Life.” My book explores how that philosophy can relate to education.
One thing I talk about is Schweitzer’s emphasis on meeting people where they are. In his jungle hospital, that meant allowing people to eat their traditional food and have their families live on the grounds. In education, that could mean finding out why a student doesn’t “get” math – maybe it’s because he can’t read well, or his family disparages analytical thinking – and addressing that person’s particular problem.
See a video of Dean Rud talking about Schweitzer here.
Your career seems to blend the skills of both your parents.

Yes. My mom, Marianne, is a retired educator. In fact, she was my fifth-grade teacher. That was quite a year – I couldn’t get away from her! She later founded her own school, mostly for adolescent boys with learning disabilities and emotional problems.

My father, Anthony Gordon Rud Sr., was a journalist and nature writer. He went by “Tony,” and I was always called A. G. to distinguish myself from him. My grandfather, Anthony M. Rud, wrote pulp fiction as well as a critically acclaimed book of literary fiction (“The Second Generation,” 1923). My wife, Rita Rud, is a fiction writer who teaches writing here at WSU, in the Honors College. Our only child, Rachel, is an actor.
What did you read when you were young that made a big impression on you?
One year in high school I read everything Hemingway wrote – his novels, his short stories, as much nonfiction as I could find. I found his prose to be crackling, and I admired the way he explored human nature. I liked Hemingway in spite of all of his faults – he certainly was a man who wore his character traits on his sleeve.
What discourages you about education today? What inspires you?
The most disheartening aspect of public education is the overemphasis on standardized testing. And many schools are poorly funded, even neglected.
One thing that inspires me is the enthusiasm of WSU’s students. At the end of fall semester, I gave a brief sendoff to students embarking on their spring student-teaching assignments. They were excited about going into the schools, putting what they had studied into practice. I sensed a wonderful energy. I was really proud of them.