Richard Ruiz, a beloved University of Arizona faculty member and mentor and head of the Department of Mexican American Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, died unexpectedly on Friday. He was 65.
In addition to serving as department head for Mexican American studies, Ruiz was a professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies in the College of Education, with faculty affiliations in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching and the Program on Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies.
He is remembered by his UA colleagues for his passion, thoughtfulness and sense of humor.
"Richard Ruiz was a remarkable person. Small in stature and quiet of voice, he was a productive and accomplished scholar; a committed and generous citizen of the academy and the world; and a teacher of uncommon ability and an ethical, honorable and kind member of our community," said Ronald Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.
"But beyond all of these important qualities, Richard had a way of combining all of these into a package that somehow was even more. He had a special quality that served to empower others, calm troubled waters and make everyone in his presence feel special and important. In a college and a University with many, many special people, Richard stood above them all."
Ruiz joined the UA faculty in 1986. Before being named head of the UA's Department of Mexican American Studies in 2012, he served as head of the Department of Language, Reading and Culture in the UA College of Education from 1993 to 1999 and as interim head of the Department of Teaching and Teacher Education from 2003 to 2007. Those two departments eventually merged to form the Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies.
"In 2012, Richard Ruiz selflessly came to the aid of the Department of Mexican American Studies," said John Paul Jones, dean of the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "He did so during a time in his career where many faculty might have been satisfied to simply plan their retirement. He quickly earned the respect of the faculty, staff and students in the department. Richard was a calm, wise and effective leader with an open-door policy for everyone. He loved students and gave his time generously to their success. His warmth and good nature affected everyone who met him. Everyone in SBS will miss him greatly."
Ruiz was recognized internationally for his research and scholarship in language planning and policy development and was a consultant to the governments of Mexico, Australia, Guatemala, Bolivia, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba and Curaçao), Israel, South Africa, and native communities in the United States and Canada. In 1992, he was recognized for his expertise in educational policy studies when he was named to the Clinton-Gore Education Transition Team.
In 2000, Ruiz was selected as a Distinguished Visiting Professor by the Mexican Academy of Science, and in 2001 he was appointed director of social justice for the American Educational Research Association, or AERA. In 2004, he received the Maria Urquides Laureate Award in the College of Education for his outstanding service to bilingual children.
Ruiz served as editor of the Bilingual Research Journal for three years. He also served on the editorial boards of Urban Education, Teaching Education, Journal of Teacher Education and the Review of Educational Research.
He was involved with numerous committees and boards throughout his career. He served as chair of AERA's Standing Committee on Social Justice and as a member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' English as a New Language Standards Committee; AERA's Minorities, Governance and Special Interest Group Task Forces; and the Multicultural Education Committee of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, to name a few.
Prior to joining the UA, Ruiz received degrees in French literature at Harvard College and in anthropology and philosophy of education at Stanford University. He taught educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for nine years.
Ruiz touched many lives during his time at the UA, and those who worked closely with him say his impact will be long remembered.
"Richard will always be remembered by his quirky and always hilarious sense of humor. But of course he will also be remembered for so many other things: for his passion for social justice and for being on the right side of the struggles for human and civil rights," said colleague Alberto Arenas, associate professor in the College of Education. "For his devotion to the University of Arizona, and always stepping up to the plate when the UA needed him — in the College of Education, Mexican American Studies and elsewhere. For expanding our intellectual horizons and for inspiring us to be better each day. For his commitment to students, which was indefatigable. He was an extremely popular professor and mentor who attracted undergraduate and graduate students from many walks of life."
"Richard was a dear colleague and human being, in so many ways the best of what a professor and department head can be," said Gary Rhoades, head of the UA Department of Educational Policy Studies and Practice. "A lovely combination of gentle and fierce, of uber smart and incredibly well-read … and very down to earth with a direct, simple wisdom. A wonderful, understated wit, with a quintessential chuckle that I will continue to treasure as it echoes in my mind."
Ruiz is survived by his wife, Marie, and two sons.
An altar has been established in Ruiz's memory on the second floor of the Cesar E. Chavez Building on the UA campus, and students, friends and colleagues are invited to bring pictures or to leave items or messages in remembrance.
On Wednesday, from noon to 1 p.m., the UA's Guerrero Student Center in Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs invites those who knew Ruiz to attend the center's "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" informal lunch discussion to share stories and celebrate Ruiz's life in Room 211 of the Chavez Building.
Later on Wednesday, from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m., the Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies invites guests to gather in the fifth-floor hallway of the College of Education Building for the department's regular "Café" event, which Ruiz began as a way for students and employees to gather and get to know one another. All are welcome to attend and share stories, photos or other memorabilia.