On Feb. 17, Theodore Ruger was named the Penn Law School’s next dean, effective July 1. Ruger, the law school’s deputy dean since 2013, has been a professor at Penn since 2004 and is known for his work in health law and regulation, food and drug law and constitutional law.
Ruger sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to discuss the changing legal landscape and how he plans to position Penn Law for the future.
The Daily Pennsylvanian: How do you feel about taking on this new role at Penn Law?
Theodore Ruger: It’s a tremendous honor and a tremendous responsibility to take on the leadership of this place that has been a wonderful professional home to me over the past 11 years. I feel like I know the place well, but I have also learned a tremendous amount, even in the past six weeks since the deanship announcement was made ... This is a law school that is in very good shape so there is a tremendous obligation that I feel to keep our momentum going and to build in even newer and better directions.
DP: What do you foresee the biggest challenge to be for Penn Law in the years to come?
TR: Every law school — even the best ones like Penn — needs to recognize that we are in a shifting legal atmosphere both in the United States and around the world. We’ve worked very hard to weather those changes on behalf of our students and we have, I think, done so. Students who come here do get jobs and they get good jobs. What is important for us as the legal world continues to change is that we not stand still and that we continue to work to expand the opportunities that students have geographically and expand the opportunities they have to go into any kind of legal practice or public policy work they want to.
DP: You discussed the changing legal atmosphere that exists today. What do you think is the most influential factor that is shaping the legal world today?
TR: The practice of law is more complex than ever. It requires a broader skill set — including skills from other disciplines outside of law — more than ever. It’s globally tinted more than ever. And it changes faster than ever. What that means for us is that we need to educate students not just for their first job but also so they have the fluid intelligence and skills to navigate this changing environment.
DP: Your resume includes serving as President of the Harvard Law Review, clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and stints at other top law schools as well as in private practice. What in your career has had the biggest influence on how you look at the law?
TR: I do feel fortunate to have had a lot of varied experiences at the top levels of clerking, private practice and teaching. And it’s given me a sense of the way in which the law is connected with American politics and American society in ways that sometimes transcend the law books themselves. There was a legal scholar long ago who talked about the difference between the law in the books and the law in action and I think I was lucky enough to see that early in my career. Both in my own teaching and in my vision for what a great law school is, we want to teach the law in the books but we also want to teach the law in action.
DP: From your experience, what separates Penn Law from its peer schools?
TR: I feel lucky to have had the chance to spend time at a number of the nation’s other top law schools. It gives me appreciation for what we have here at Penn — and not just a top-flight legal education. Because of the values that we hold here and the size we are it’s more of a sense of community and connectedness between faculty, staff and students. The law school I went to and some of the law schools where I visited to teach — places like NYU and Harvard — are huge places with lots of brilliant professors and students. But the cohesiveness at those places doesn’t feel like the community we have at Penn.
DP: A number of Penn Law professors have spoken out against the University’s new sexual assault policies. What role do you see yourself playing in bringing together both sides of this argument?
TR: I’m very committed to having a diverse and open campus. That means promoting an atmosphere where every student and every faculty member feels safe about expressing their opinions — even on matters where we disagree. There have been a number of events, including some that I have moderated, where people from very different viewpoints on this issue have come together. Like any good law school we’re going to tackle the most important and divisive issues in society and we want to tackle them with fairness and open-mindedness and make sure that everyone feels their voice is heard.
DP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
TR: My wife, Jennifer Prah Ruger, is a professor at the medical school. We’ve been together since before I went to law school. She is a scholar as well and has been very helpful to me in thinking about organic issues and making the choices I have. She is instrumental in the interests that I have developed in health law.