Valerie Rutledge doesn’t just talk about the value of diversity; her actions demonstrate her commitment, and her leadership has won the first-ever UT President’s Award for support of diversity.
The award category makes its debut in this year’s UT President’s Awards, a statewide employee recognition program launched in 2015 to honor one winner for each of the UT system-wide mission focus areas of education, research and outreach. A category to recognize employee contributions in support of fulfilling the statewide UT system mission was added in 2017.
Nominees come from the more than 12,000 employees of UT system-affiliated enterprises statewide. Rutledge was among a total of five honored at UT President’s Awards presentation in Nashville on Thursday, March 14.
Interim UT President Randy Boyd recognized the award recipients at a luncheon in their honor prior to making the fourth annual State of the University address.
As dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Rutledge in 2018 coordinated a strategic drive that produced the largest increase in recruitment, retention and promotion of underrepresented minority faculty at UTC.
UTC Chancellor Steve Angle nominated Rutledge for the 2019 UT President’s Award, noting “her ever-present smile, enthusiastic attitude and never-ending devotion to increase UTC’s goal of welcoming a broad mixture of people, ideas and attitudes,” adding that “Valerie Rutledge embodies” the highest degree of commitment to diversity of opportunity and experience.
Rutledge insists the award is not hers alone, saying it “represents all of those across our many branches who work daily to develop an atmosphere that values everyone.”
“This award is evidence of the efforts on each campus across our system to celebrate the diverse dimensions of our students, our colleagues, and our communities,” she says.
As chair of the UTC Diversity Advisory Committee and a proponent of diversity and inclusion in the entire UTC campus community, from students to faculty to staff, Rutledge leads ongoing review of documents, policies and practices to ensure the university’s continued progress toward a campus that is welcoming, inclusive and offers a diverse environment for living, learning and working.
“In higher education, one of our responsibilities is to help foster opportunities for all individuals to succeed and to be a repository of new and creative ideas,” she says. “The variety of races, values, cultures, abilities, interests, lifestyles and ideas represented on our campuses is a vital part of how we establish an atmosphere which creates not just acceptance of, but value for diversity, equity, and inclusion of all persons.
“In the words of Ron Harris, keynote speaker at the 2017 UT Inclusive Excellence Summit, ‘We are One, but together we are better.’”
In October, Rutledge was a featured presenter at the 2018 Women in Leadership Higher Education National Diversity Congress held at Harvard University. She partnered with UTC’s Elizabeth Crawford, director of the School of Professional Studies, in their joint presentation, “Mentoring Women Toward Success.”
Rutledge was named to her current post as dean in 2013, following a decade as director of the UTC School of Education. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in secondary education at UTC and a doctoral degree in higher education leadership at UT Knoxville.
Prior to joining UTC, Rutledge was an award-winning public school teacher, including double honors in 1986 as both Hamilton County Teacher of the Year and Tennessee High School Teacher of the Year.
She was a 2015 Woman of Distinction honoree at the 30th anniversary presentation of the annual recognition by the American Lung Association for “civic, cultural, philanthropic, human service, environmental or professional commitments.” She has served as a member of the boards of directors of multiple area medical institutions, nonprofit and government agencies.