A&M's 125th Anniversary
Rudder's influence is evident on campus
Today's student body would hardly recognize the A&M College of Texas as it was in the summer of 1959 when Maj. Gen. James Earl Rudder became its 16th president.
But there is a pretty good chance that what they would have seen at Texas A&M University upon the time of his passing in March 1970 would conjure a sense of familiarity.
After serving as vice president of his alma mater for a year and a half, Rudder became president of the all-male military college with an enrollment of about 7,500.
By the time of Rudder's death, A&M had been transformed to a coed university with an enrollment of more than 14,000, including students from all 50 states and 75 foreign countries.
"General Rudder was key in helping the institution to transition from the 1950s into the future," said John Adams, A&M historian and member of the Class of '73. "[It was] a time of change and no one could have done it better than the general."
Rudder's administration oversaw tremendous social change in the mid-1960s. During a three-year span, the landscape of Texas A&M was forever altered.
In 1963, the A&M Board of Directors — renamed Board of Regents in 1975 — voted to allow wives and daughters of faculty and staff into undergraduate programs and to allow any woman to enroll in graduate studies. In 1965, the board voted to allow any woman to be admitted to undergraduate studies at the discretion of the president. Rudder readily gave his blessing to any woman who wanted to come to A&M who met the school's academic requirements.
In 1964, James L. Courtney became the first black student to enroll at A&M. Then in 1965, the A&M System Board of Directors chose to make membership in the Corps of Cadets optional.
Perhaps even greater were the changes being made on the academic front. Rudder chaired the drafting of an extensive study and report in 1961-62 called the Blue Print for Progress, which led to expansion in the areas of teaching, research, and extension.
Both undergraduate programs and graduate studies flourished under his watch, as did an aggressive building program that more than doubled the value of A&M's facilities.
A&M College of Texas' name was officially changed by the 58th Texas Legislature to Texas A&M University in 1963. Names of schools within A&M changed to colleges and divisions became schools.
The colleges of Liberal Arts, Science, Geosciences, Business Administration, Education, Architecture and Environmental Design were all established in the years that followed.
Rudder, a member of A&M's Class of 1932, was the second Aggie alumnus to hold the office of president. The first was the man he succeeded as president, Marion Thomas Harrington.
Rudder would follow in Harrington's footsteps again in 1965, becoming chancellor of the A& University System. He held both positions of president and chancellor until his death in 1970.
Even to this day, Rudder casts considerable weight on the Texas A&M campus.
Students coming to town from the northeast or southwest more than likely do so by driving on Texas 6 — or the Earl Rudder Freeway as it has been renamed through Bryan and College Station.
His presence is felt in the Corps of Cadets, where one of its most elite groups — Rudder's Rangers — bears his name.
On campus the Rudder Center, which the Texas A&M Board of Directors named in his honor, is one of A&M's most recognizable landmarks. It includes Rudder Tower, Rudder Theater Complex and the Rudder Fountain, which stands near the Memorial Student Center.
Just beyond the complex stands a life-size statue of Rudder. He is one of only a handful of men to be immortalized on the campus in such a way.
"He is one of the true giants of A&M," Adams said.
Chris Ferrells e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org