Agent of Change
Chico State senior Ian Ruddell finishes his term in the highest office a student can hold in the CSU
by Elizabeth Renfro | Photos by Beiron Andersson
“Representing nearly half a million people is extremely stressful,” says California State University Student Trustee Ian Ruddell, with rather impressive understatement.
One day last year, for example, Ruddell stood on the steps of the state capitol and spoke to a crowd of nearly 10,000 rallying for higher education support, alongside Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, other lawmakers, and student representatives from CSUs, University of Californias, and community colleges. Over the past 22 months, the CSU, Chico senior has played an active role in the selection of a new chancellor and the appointment of half a dozen campus presidents. He has voted on controversial budget issues affecting all 23 campuses, including tuition, salaries, enrollment, and building projects.
“California’s public colleges,” wrote New York Times reporter Jennifer Medina recently, are “so central to the state’s identity that their independence is enshrined in its Constitution.” The CSU system, the country’s largest university system, was once a national model of accessible higher education, its universities “gateways to the middle class.” An almost decade-long economic crisis, however, has seen state funding slashed, which in turn, according to CSU Chancellor Timothy White, has resulted in the erosion of that ideal and left the universities “facing a fundamental dilemma over access.”
This makes student representation at CSU’s state level all the more important, says Ruddell, now finishing up the second and final year of his term on the Board of Trustees, the state university system’s governing body. Student trustees have voting rights on the board in their second year, and the appointment is far from an honorary or token position. Indeed, Chancellor White says that “the role of the [voting] student trustee is one of the most critical for the Board of Trustees. This individual represents our largest and most important constituency, the 430,000 Cal State students.” Ruddell takes this responsibility very seriously, says CSU, Chico President Paul Zingg. “Ian cares about the student experience, and has never wavered from that commitment,” says Zingg.
No wonder, then, that Ruddell, a multicultural and gender studies major, describes his trustee experience as “extremely stressful.” Trustees who have gotten to know Ruddell have gained great respect for him. “The single word that characterizes Ian is “courage”: courage to seek to understand students and other CSU members’ positions on issues, courage to be himself even under potential great pressures,” says Board of Trustees Chair and Chico alumnus Bob Linscheid (BA, Political Science, ’76; Master of Public Administration, ’78). “It is courage that garners respect from all who are involved in the CSU.”
The role of the student trustee is one of the most critical for the Board of Trustees.
—Chancellor Timothy White
Ruddell has been demonstrating that courage—and a concomitant concern for educational inclusivity and access—since his days at Atascadero High, where he initiated the school’s first gay-straight alliance. When Ruddell arrived at CSU, Chico, he was already “an idealistic, dedicated activist,” says Sara Cooper, professor of Spanish and multicultural and gender studies.
Ruddell’s own reflections are a bit more critical. Recently, during a break between classes—and between trips to other CSU campuses to confer with his constituency and to Long Beach for the bimonthly board meetings—he reflected on that 18-year-old self. “Cocky,” says Ruddell, looking down at his cup of coffee. “That’s what I was when I first got to Chico.” Then he looks up with a combination of embarrassment and some surprise. “I thought I knew it all.”
That self-assessment seems a bit harsh, but the first-generation university student did find unexpected challenges when he arrived in Chico in the fall of 2008. For one thing, Ruddell was surprised at the lack of resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. How he responded, though, seems typical of him: He actively sought out campus and community members to discuss concerns and brainstorm an action plan. The result was a collaborative University-Community Leadership Conference for LGBT youth that spring, now an annual event.
Ruddell closed out that busy first year by being chosen the youngest director in the history of the AS Women’s Center, a position he held his sophomore and junior years. During his first term, he became increasingly concerned that while the Women’s Center was doing important work, it was falling short of its commitment to fully support Chico’s diverse student population. So again Ruddell moved to effect change. With the help of a summer research stipend from the University Honors Program, and in consultation with students, faculty, and staff, he developed a new model for the organization. In his second year as director, he “almost single-handedly” shepherded the Women’s Center into the now-thriving Gender and Sexuality Equity Center (GSEC), according to Kimberly Edmonds (BA, Political Science and Multicultural and Gender Studies, ’12). Edmonds, who became GSEC’s first director, explains that “all of us had seen the need for this change, but Ian was the one who really decided to do something and made it happen.”
Along the way, Ruddell served on the campuswide Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion committee and as co-president of the student PRIDE/Safe Zone Club. He maintained a GPA well above 3.0 and garnered a Rawlins Merit Award and a Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2010.
Ruddell himself is adamant that “without my mentors and supporters, I wouldn’t have had these opportunities. ‘My’ successes are the product of the efforts of many. I haven’t done any of this even remotely on my own. Many people believed in me and encouraged me to take chances that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Such mentoring and support was key in Ruddell’s move from the local to the statewide stage. In early 2011, he was invited to present a lecture to the Multicultural Caucus of the California State Student Association (CSSA). Miles Nevin, CSSA executive director, says that Ruddell’s “articulateness and impressive expertise” on sexual and gender minority experiences in the university setting was such that Nevin and others immediately urged Ruddell to apply to be a student trustee. CSSA is officially recognized by the Board of Trustees to represent CSU student issues. It is to CSSA’s executive board, based in the CSU system headquarters in Long Beach, that student trustee applicants first apply. CSSA then recommends nominees to the governor, who interviews each nominee and makes the final selection.
At the time of his July 2011 appointment, Ruddell told the Bay Area Reporter that, as a student trustee, he wanted to “keep students confident in the CSU system.” At first, he admits, it felt odd for someone who’d always been more in the outsider, change-maker position to now be part of “the system.” But serving on the Board of Trustees, Ruddell says, has increased his respect and passion for higher education—and for the multitudinous efforts it takes to keep universities working for those they serve.
“Being an active part in administering such a large institution has made me realize how complicated progress is,” notes Ruddell. “The process is lengthy, yet rewarding.”
The 25-member CSU Board of Trustees is charged with formulating policies and regulations regarding curriculum, facilities, budget, and personnel for all CSU campuses. Two student trustees, plus one faculty and one alum trustee, serve two-year terms representing their respective constituencies. The remainder of the board comprises 16 appointed trustees who serve eight-year terms, plus five ex-officio members—the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly, state superintendent of public instruction (all publicly elected officials), and the CSU chancellor, appointed by the board (see sidebar this page). Additionally, the 23 campus presidents generally attend—and participate in—the bimonthly meetings.
With so many people and such complex issues involved, new trustees face a steep learning curve and must “get to know the other trustees and build positive relationships,” says Faculty Trustee Bernadette Cheyne (Humboldt State University). She recalls Ruddell saying this was “a bit intimidating for him as ‘just’ a student.” However, says Cheyne, forging effective working relationships is one of Ruddell’s great skills. President Zingg, from whom Ruddell says he has received “nonstop support,” was confident Ruddell could excel in both demands. “Ian never hesitates to speak his mind, yet always recognizes he has more to learn,” says Zingg.
Ruddell is “savvy,” notes CSSA’s Nevin, articulating student concerns and needs “both knowledgably and nonconfrontationally.” That Ruddell’s approach is very persuasive was evident this past year in his efforts to help fellow trustees understand the burden three new fees would have placed on students. “Ian’s knowledge of and passion for the students and their educational experience really shines through, and has influenced my thinking on a number of occasions,” says Cheyne. “I don’t think of Ian as a ‘student’ trustee, but rather as a trustee, as an equal.”
For the past two years, Ruddell was voted the Linscheid Trustee of the Year by the CSSA. While June’s Board of Trustees meeting does mark the end of Ruddell’s term, he is certain it is not the end of his involvement in higher education. Future plans include graduate school and an eventual university teaching career—ideally, he says, at one of the CSUs.
Wherever Ruddell’s passion for higher education takes him, he will be leaving behind an impressive legacy at the Board of Trustees, according to Chancellor White. “As an advocate for social justice and enriched learning environments,” says White, “Ian’s work ethic and desire to understand the policies and procedures of the university have established a very high bar for future student trustees.” Chairman Linscheid concurs. “The system is better for having Ian on the board.”
About the author
Elizabeth Renfro (BA, English and German, ’72; MA, English, ’75) taught for 35 years at CSU, Chico in English, honors, and multicultural and gender studies.
The Courage to Be Himself
Editor’s note: During his final year at CSU, Chico, Ian Ruddell underwent female-to-male gender transition (some readers may have known him previously as Jillian Ruddell). Below is an excerpt from a letter Ian sent to the CSU Board of Trustees and CSU presidents in February 2013.
Dear Trustees and Presidents,
I am writing this letter to inform you of some significant changes in my life that you all should be aware of. For the past year and a half you have known me as Jillian, with female pronouns. As of about a month ago, I have begun transitioning hormonally and socially from female to male. I have lived in Chico with male pronouns and by my asserted name, Ian, for the past year. I have recently felt that it was time to begin transitioning toward a more physical and social congruency with this identity.
My hope is that my own transition will open the door to the Board seeking more education regarding gender identity and expression, because many more students (and staff and faculty) are part of a broader transsexual and transgender community in the CSU system. I’ve attached some suggestions for how to be an ally to trans people [see web.mit.edu/trans/tipsfortransallies.pdf]. Many campus LGBT centers provide seminars and talks, and many other trans people have perspectives to share about their experiences within the CSU system.
I have a great respect for each of you and the work that we do here in the CSU. Thank you for your support and understanding.
Test Your Board of Trustees Smarts
Far from being a rubber-stamp committee, the CSU Board of Trustees is a powerful force in America’s largest four-year educational system. What do you know about your alma mater’s state-level governing body?
1) All members of the board are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the California Legislature. True/False
2) Like U.S. Supreme Court justices, trustees serve lifetime appointments to the board.
3) The Board of Trustees has power to determine
a) Tuition fees
b) Undergraduate general education requirements
c) Minimum number of units required for a baccalaureate degree
d) Salaries for campus presidents
e) All of the above
4) Members of the public may attend and even speak on agenda items at any Board of Trustees meeting, committee meeting, or special meeting.
5) Which of the following trustee positions was created first?
a) Faculty trustee
b) Student trustee
c) Alumnus/alumna trustee
d) Second faculty trustee
e) Second student trustee
1) False. The California Legislature does confirm the 16 trustees whom the governor appoints to eight-year terms. The speaker of the assembly is elected by the state representatives. The California Legislature has no formal role in selecting the other board members.
2) False. Student, faculty, and alumni trustees serve two-year terms. The other 16 trustees serve eight-year terms. The chancellor serves at the pleasure of the board. The remaining four ex-officio members serve the duration of their elected office terms.
3) All of the above.
5) The first trustee position created was student trustee, in 1976—a year before the first alumni trustee appointment and seven years before the first faculty trustee. A second student trustee position was added in 2000, with the students serving staggered two-year terms.
(BA, Information and Communication Studies, ’80) illustrated the New Yorker’s 2012 election cover.
(BA, Chemistry, ’71) is helping design Disney’s newest theme park in Shanghai.
(BA, Communication Design, ’92) runs The Sustainable Kitchen, a cooking school/farm tour program.