After 29 years of laboring to build the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication program, a graduate program and now a new building, Dean Robert Ruggles said the job’s stress and pressure forced him to call it quits.
“I’d rather walk out of here than be carried out of here… dead,” Ruggles said.
Ruggles, 64, who has suffered from several health problems recently, said his reasons for the decision to leave are not simple.
Described as a “culmination of things” Ruggles said inadequate funding for the new SJGC building, lack of support from FAMU administration and internal glitches coupled with his health and age, pushed him into professional exhaustion.
“I’m tired of pushing a boulder up a hill, that only comes back to hit me in the head,” Ruggles said as he formally announced his resignation to SJGC faculty and staff Friday morning.
Ruggles, who founded the Division of Journalism in 1974, said he had been contemplating leaving FAMU since spring semester, but sent a formal letter of resignation to Larry Robinson, provost and vice president, two weeks ago.
Faculty and staff said Ruggles, the 1998 Freedom Forum Journalism Administrator of the Year, will be hard to replace. He was visibly emotional and struggling against tears as he said goodbye to staff members.
“I was saddened at it; I think it’s unfortunate,” said Joe Ritchie, Knight Chair and professor of journalism. “Robert Ruggles has built, almost from scratch, one of the top journalism schools in the country.
Under Ruggles’ watch, FAMU became the first HBCU with an accredited journalism program. He developed sequences in newspaper journalism, broadcast journalism and public relations. Since then, he has helped numerous HBCUs receive journalism accredatation, including Jackson State, Grambling and Hampton universities.
Trevor Brown, dean of the School of Journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington, who has known Ruggles for 15 years, spoke of the decorated dean’s effectiveness.
“He is a very quiet person, but has strong convictions. His quietness helps him to get things done,” Brown said from Indiana Friday. “My sense is that it’s (the program) in a much better position now than when he got there.”
According to his office records, Ruggles has single-handedly raised $15 million for the school.
“He is for FAMU,” said his administrative secretary of 13 years, Maryann Travis.
“(People say) a HBCU don’t need white deans, but let me tell you something … if a student didn’t have money, he would take money out of his pocket and give it to them.”
Travis, 63, said Ruggles often worked until 9 or 10 p.m. on fundraising endeavors for the new building.
Others in the department are pleased Ruggles will finally get to do one thing people rarely saw him do – rest.
“I’d like to see him get that well deserved sleep, because he does do a lot,” said Ron James, professor of graphic communication. “He deserves to wake up when he wants to.”
Ruggles’ last day is Friday and he said he plans to take time to rest, catch up on pleasure reading and travel. He and his wife plan to reside in Tallahassee and do consulting work.