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Rudley launches his presidency with focus on strategic plan

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John RudleyWhether it was shooting hoops as a student-scholar at the University of Toledo or overseeing the implementation of the University of Houston campus master plan, John Rudley has pursued his goals with fierce determination, hard work and zeal.

Now, Rudley brings that same drive to his new role as interim University of Houston System chancellor and interim UH president.

Rudley, who has been vice chancellor and vice president for administration and finance since 2002, was appointed to the position in May after Jay Gogue accepted the presidency at Auburn University.

“After being here for five years, I have a sense of what’s required to proceed with the agenda, established by Dr. (Arthur) Smith, Dr. Gogue and the Board of Regents, that will move the university forward in every aspect,” Rudley said.

He hopes to accomplish this by focusing on three initiatives — research, enrollment and construction of a health science center — outlined in UH’s strategic plan.

“I am fascinated with (Vice President for Research) Donald Birx’s idea of creating research clusters. That has my undivided attention at this point,” Rudley said. “In the budget process, we may be able to provide funding for his idea by allocating existing and new revenues to expedite our research efforts.”

Rudley also plans to work to increase enrollment.

“I’m interested in developing a system that improves access to UH and the other UH System universities for residents in Houston, Texas and the nation,” Rudley said.

His other priority is moving the university closer to constructing a health science center, which will enable UH to offer joint degrees with Cornell University and The Methodist Hospital.

Although achieving those goals during his tenure may not be easy, Rudley is ready for the challenge.

His credentials include senior technical adviser to the U.S. Department of Education and vice chancellor for business and finance for the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees six universities, 13 two-year institutions and 26 vocational schools. He also served as vice chancellor for administration and finance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

He credits much of his success to his parents’ guidance and the support of eight siblings and a host of other relatives during his childhood in Benton Harbor, Mich.

“My mom and dad were my heroes,” Rudley said. “My mother managed to make me feel special, even though there were nine of us. She gave me my moral compass. My father worked hard, every day, in factories to provide for his family. He instilled in me a strong work ethic.”

That work ethic led Rudley to a four-year athletics scholarship at the University of Toledo, where he played basketball and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, to a doctorate from Tennessee State University to the chancellor/president’s office at UH.

Off campus, Rudley takes on other challenges, including serving as president of the Houston chapter of the 100 Black Men of America, and expanding its mentorship program for at-risk youth. But, Rudley’s most important roles are husband to his wife, Docia, professor of law at Texas Southern University, and father to his sons, John Michael and Jamalh.

“My wife has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. When we moved from Nashville to Houston, from Chattanooga to Washington, D.C., and from Washington, D.C., to Chattanooga and then back to Nashville, she was always there for me,” Rudley said.

Rudley also expressed gratitude for the support of the regents, the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, Staff Council, the Student Government Association, his cabinet and his extended family.

When asked about being the first African American to hold the joint UH System chancellor and UH president position, Rudley leaned back in his chair and paused before answering.

“I’m walking in Dr. (Marguerite Ross) Barnett’s footsteps,” he said. “I know she didn’t hold both titles, but, to me, she is still the first African American to serve as chief executive officer. I want to be the best chancellor and president I can be in honor of her legacy and on behalf of the regents and all those people who support me.”

Editor’s note: In 1990, Marguerite Ross Barnett became the first African American and woman to serve as UH president. Barnett served 18 months in the position before dying of cancer in 1992.