Skip Rutherford, dean of the UA Clinton School of Public Service, announced last week that he would retire from the post at the end of June 2021. By then, he will have served 15 years in the post helping elevate the school’s national prominence.
“Higher education is always a work in progress. And while we have accomplished a great deal at the Clinton School and I’m really proud of the great work of our faculty and staff and students and the impact we’ve had in the community and I think the nation’s best speaker series, there’s always time for new ideas, new infusions and new directions,” he said. “So I hope the next dean will continue to build on what I built on, from founding Dean David Pryor. It’s been a great run, it’s been a great ride and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Rutherford said he will stay out of the process for selecting the next leader for the school. He offered the self-criticism that he hoped the future dean would strengthen the school’s academic credentials.
“I think one of the things that I think I could have done better would be to elevate our academics to a higher national role. I think we’ve done very well in our project-based learning. I think we’ve done very well in the speaker series. I think we’ve done very well in managing our resources,” Rutherford said. “We need to take the academics to a higher level that solidifies the school’s national press.”
The pandemic has altered many facets of American life, particularly higher education. The Clinton School launched online learning in 2018 before it was a necessity in the age of COVID-19. Rutherford thinks that’s one change that is here to stay.
“I think the pandemic is going to change higher education forever. I think it’s going to change the delivery of higher education,” he said. “What I see down the road is that more and more students are getting more and more comfortable with remote learning. And you’re seeing even this year where people who signed up for in-class work are now opting for remote lessons. So I think, what we’re going to see is higher education having to be more nimble, more flexible, and hopefully the Clinton School can be used as a national example for doing that.”
Rutherford also shared his thoughts on Presidential politics. The Talk Business & Politics interview was taped before news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the biggest draw to the Clinton School speaker series ever. In 2019, she filled up Simmons Bank Arena, which hold roughly 16,000 visitors.
“Of the more than 1,400 speakers who have been part of our series, Ruth Bader Ginsburg by far drew the largest crowd, and we could have probably filled two Simmons Bank Arenas. I will be forever grateful that many of our students and graduates had the opportunity to be there. I also had the special privilege of joining a small group for dinner with Justice Ginsburg after the program, where she was engaging and inquisitive. Among the topics we discussed were public service and civil rights,” Rutherford said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics after learning news of her passing.
Rutherford said the 2020 Presidential election is far from settled at this juncture, although conventional wisdom suggests Joe Biden, the Democrat, has an advantage over President Donald Trump today.
“I’m reminded of a political headline in September of 2016, which said something to the effect, ‘Hillary Clinton’s advisors tell her to prepare for a landslide.’ And we saw that certainly didn’t happen. This 2020 election, in many ways is similar to the 2016 election,” he said. “President Trump is going to have to defend a lot more states in 2020, which probably at this stage does give Vice-president Biden the edge. But it is way too early to call, it’s way too early to predict. And I think we’re going to have a long election night.”
You can watch Rutherford’s full interview in the video below.