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Theodore Ruger concluded his eight-year term as Penn Carey Law's dean on June 30 (Photo from Penn Carey Law).

Former University of Pennsylvania Carey Law Dean Ted Ruger left the position on June 30, marking the end of his eight-year term. 

Ruger led the law school through the COVID-19 pandemic, facilitated projects to create greater accessibility in the legal field, and oversaw efforts to make Penn Carey Law more diverse. In an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian, he discussed his experiences leading up to the position, his time as dean, and his plans for the future. Ruger was succeeded by Penn Carey Law professor Sophia Lee on July 1, 2023. 

Life before joining Penn Carey Law

Ruger graduated from Williams College in 1990 with a degree in history. Always interested in history, politics, and government, he went on to attend Harvard Law School in 1995.

“I found the intellectual and policy issues in law so fascinating that I realized I could have the best of both worlds and practice law for a while before returning to an academic career,” he wrote about his law school experience. 

After Harvard, Ruger held positions at law firms Ropes & Gray and Williams & Connolly, and clerked for Judge Michael Boudin on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and later for Justice Stephen Breyer on the United States Supreme Court. 

“As rewarding as practice was, however, after a few years I did want to pursue various constitutional and governance issues in depth and on my own initiative in both my teaching and research,” he wrote, which led him back to academia. 

Ruger first came to Penn Carey Law as an assistant professor in 2004, where he became a professor two years later and deputy dean in 2013. In 2015, he began his term as dean of Penn Carey Law and Bernard G. Segal professor of law. In 2021, Ruger’s term was extended through the end of June 2023. 

Being Dean during COVID-19

In fall 2020, Penn Carey Law was one of only two of Penn’s graduate schools whose students returned to campus during the pandemic. Classes were held in person without any COVID-19 outbreaks. 

“That took both guts and collaboration,” said Deputy Dean and William A. Schnader Professor of Law Dave Hoffman to the Penn Law Journal

Ruger led efforts to return students’ belongings and convert courses to online formats. As a result of the pandemic, he committed to freezing tuition for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year while also increasing financial aid.

In recent years, financial aid has increased by 66%, and will continue to increase by $8 million over the next five years. 

Creating a more diverse Penn Carey Law

During Ruger’s term as dean, Penn Carey Law saw significantly more diverse classes and faculty. The JD Class of 2025 is 55% women and 56% students of color. Currently, 45% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty are women — compared to about 25% eight years ago — and faculty members of color have increased by 51% over the last several years, according to the Penn Law Journal.

Ruger also supported the establishment of Penn Carey Law’s Office of Equity & Inclusion, which aims to “advance equity and inclusion through education and skill-building that inspire advocacy and action.”  

“I was keenly aware as Dean that we are operating in a rapidly changing profession that hasn’t always been as inclusive or accessible or fair as it ought to be, and some of our practices and ways of doing things needed to change even while we held on to the best of our core values,” Ruger wrote.

Adapting Penn Carey Law to meet today's needs

Ruger spearheaded multiple initiatives to make a law school school education more accessible.

He helped design the Master in Law program at Penn Carey Law, which offers an interdisciplinary education in the legal field for professionals across sectors and has 163 graduates to date, with 119 others currently pursuing degrees.

Ruger also supported the establishment of the Future of the Profession Initiative, which aims to address the problems that the American legal profession faces through a focus on technology simplifying court processes, and increasing access to justice.

As dean, Ruger facilitated multiple large donations that allowed the school to fund new initiatives and provide financial support for students, including a donation of $50 million to support law students pursuing public interest careers.  

When Penn Carey Law professor Amy Wax’s anti-Asian comments sparked national scrutiny, Ruger initiated charges against Wax by requesting the Penn Faculty Senate to impose a “major sanction” against the professor. Wax filed a grievance against Ruger in January 2023, a counter-complaint to the disciplinary proceedings she faced under University sanctions process.

Ruger declined to comment on the matter, citing the confidentiality and fairness of the University's major sanctions process. 

Reflecting on Ruger’s deanship

“Supporting, recruiting, and educating the individuals who are Penn Carey Law has been the most important thing we’ve collectively achieved while I’ve been Dean," wrote Ruger of what he believes to be his most significant contribution to the law school.

“I think we’re stronger than ever both inside our building and in the impacts and opportunities that our graduates have once leaving Penn, and it's been a privilege to be a part of that," he wrote.

In April, Penn President Liz Magill announced that after an exhaustive selection process by a consultative committee, professor Sophia Lee would succeed Ruger as Penn Carey Law's first female dean. 

Ruger described Lee as having “everything it takes to be a spectacular dean.” 

“The first months of the dean’s job can be daunting and a steep learning curve, but to know Sophia Lee is to realize just how talented she is, and the new ideas and energy she’ll bring to the role from day one will benefit the Law School immensely," he wrote.

What’s next?

Ruger will stay at Penn to continue his teaching and research. He specializes in the study of judicial authority, health law, and pharmaceutical regulation, and has taught classes in constitutional law, health law, and regulation, legislation, and food and drug law and policy.

“It's a tremendously exciting time right now, and the field of law is attracting people from a broader set of backgrounds and disciplinary interests than ever before,” Ruger wrote.

When asked about his vision for the future of the school, Ruger wrote that “part of my philosophy of legal education is that Penn Carey Law can always achieve and improve, without jettisoning our most important traditions.” 

“We can nurture the best parts of our past while simultaneously reframing our institution to make for a better present and future,” he wrote.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Penn Carey Law's JD class consisted of 25% women eight years ago, when, in fact, the percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty who are women was 25% eight years ago. The DP regrets this error.