Written by: Ken Bikoff, O’Neill School Faculty Liaison and Public Relations Officer
Some people collect accomplishments. Others focus on making an impact.
Philip J. Rutledge managed to do both in a way that resonates more than a decade after his passing.
One of the most influential leaders in the field of public administration and social equity, Rutledge held high-profile public policy positions at the local and national levels before transitioning to the realm of academia, including nearly 20 years at Indiana University and the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The O’Neill IUPUI-Philip Rutledge Fellows Program was expressly established to celebrate his tireless contributions to public good with the aim of making it possible for future generations of highly talented minority students to follow his footsteps.
“During the 50-year history of the O’Neill School, we’ve been blessed with so many influential researchers who have made an immeasurable positive impact on the world,” said Siân Mooney, dean of the O’Neill School. “Philip Rutledge ranks among the most influential in terms of a lasting legacy that has pushed the effort toward equity forward, and we’re so incredibly proud that he was a part of our school.”
Rutledge was born in Dawson, Georgia in 1925. An only child, Rutledge lived in the Deep South and experienced the hardships that would inform his worldview, especially when it came to helping others. He moved to Chicago in the early 1940s before joining the Navy in 1945, where he served in the Navy Hospital Corps.
After finishing his military commitment, he returned to Chicago looking to start a new life.
Finding work wasn’t easy, but he found his calling as an inspector in the Union Stock Yards, the sprawling meatpacking facility that helped feed the growing nation. It was at the stock yards that Rutledge was inspired to a pursue a career in public health. Inspecting meat was an important job, but he could impact more lives by influencing policy.
That led him first to a degree in political science and sociology from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1952, and then he moved on to the University of Michigan, where he received a master’s degree in public health. Rutledge began his career as a manager in the Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan, health departments, where his talent for public administration quickly showed. He rose to the rank of director of the Bureau of Health Education and Community Services before serving as the director of the Mayor’s Committee for Human Resources Development. He also was the Detroit representative to Michigan Governor George W. Romney’s Committee on Higher Education.
Social equity was Rutledge’s driving passion, and his policy work focused on eliminating the hurdles faced by women and underrepresented populations. During the mid-1960s, Rutledge was tapped by the Lyndon Johnson Administration to serve as the executive director of the President’s Committee on Manpower before moving on to become deputy administrator of the Manpower Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor. He later served as the commissioner of welfare in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
He worked tirelessly toward the advancement of social justice and focused on policies that would result in fairness, justice, and equity. His visionary leadership in this area is considered the catalyst for making social equity one of the pillars of public administration.
“He, along with (Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at the University of Kansas) George Frederickson, were key voices to create this debate and discussion about social equity being a key part of the work of public administration,” says David A. Bell, a clinical associate professor at the O’Neill School. “He also served as a model African American. He was a very visible, powerful, intelligent, articulate leader who happened to be African American. There are just reams of stories of people who have served diligently in public service—federal, state, and local—who were served by sitting under Philip Rutledge, his tutelage. So, his impact in terms of the conversation, the research—and mentoring, bringing leaders along in the profession—was a tremendous impact.”
Following the end of the Johnson Administration, Rutledge became a special assistant to Walter Washington, the first mayor of Washington, D.C., and later served as D.C.’s director of the Department of Human Resources. There, Rutledge continued to push to raise the voice of underrepresented population, and he didn’t hold back in speaking truth to power. During one instance in 1969, he chided the D.C. Health Department’s Medical Committee for not including enough Black doctors and dentists when it came to soliciting input for a task force to overhaul the health department.
In 1971, when his country called again, Rutledge answered. He returned to the federal government to serve as the deputy administrator of Social and Rehabilitation Services and commissioner of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Richard Nixon Administration. His work with HEW eventually placed him as the top-ranking Black appointee in the Nixon Administration.
Rutledge was known as a collaborator, someone who had vision but trusted others to help him bring that vision to life. As much as anywhere, this was visible in his service to the profession as a participant in societies and associations. After moving on from the Nixon Administration, Rutledge took on leadership roles as the director of policy analysis for the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors as well as the presidency of the National Institute of Public Management and a chair of the United Black Fund. He was active in the American Society for Public Administration, including founding the Social Equity Luncheon.
In 1974, he became the first Black president of ASPA. Rutledge was also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), serving as the founding chair of the Academy’s Standing Panel on Social Equity in Governance and the Social Equity Leadership conference. In the early 2000s, his work with NAPA would lead to a partnering agreement between NAPA and The Ghana Public Services Commission, engaging a group of NAPA fellows with The Ghana Department of Personnel.
For years, Rutledge had made an impact on the academic world, and he moved into the academic realm himself starting in 1977 when he was named a Fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. He later held faculty appointments at Howard University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. In the academic world, he built a reputation as a “pracademic.” His practical experience combined with his research to create policies that didn’t rely on theories but instead considered the real-world impacts the policies had both on the people they were intended to help and on the people implementing them.
“One of the challenges of universities and dealing with society—what is commonly referred to as town and gown—is about trying to serve and assist as well as educate students with ways of thinking and ideas, but also in ways that can be practical and have impacts in service,” Bell says. “There is this picture of Phil that is bifurcated—he was in public service then moved to academia—but as it always is, those really overlap. While he was working in public service, he also was having an impact on academia, lecturing, serving on societies working to inform the research and work of others. Then, he was teaching himself and transitioned into that arena, he was a powerful instructor.”
In 1983, Rutledge arrived at IU, first in Gary, Indiana, where he joined the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Northwest. He later also served on the IUPUI campus and various roles in Bloomington. During his time at IU, Rutledge was a director of the Center for Global Studies, special assistant to the president of the university, and was the director of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUN. Rutledge retired from teaching in 1999, but he returned to service in 2001 when he served as interim associate dean of the O’Neill School at IUPUI.
“Professor Phil Rutledge was a paragon in the field of public affairs—whether as a public servant, adamant about achieving social justice through fair and effective public management, or as a professor, dedicated to the next generation of public leaders through imparting his considerable knowledge and wisdom,” said Astrid E. Merget, then-dean of the O’Neill School. “Professor Rutledge was a man of passion, tempered and disciplined in his consummate professionalism yet irresistible in his compelling leadership. His imprint on the School of Public and Environmental Affairs … is enduring. He always reminded his students and his colleagues that there was purposefulness and nobility to what we teach, study, and translate into action—that is, to improve society for all its citizens here and abroad.”
Rutledge garnered a host of awards during his career, including IU’s W. George Pinnell Award for Outstanding Service, which recognizes faculty members and librarians who have shown exceptional breadth of involvement and depth of commitment in service to the university, to their profession, or to the public, as well as IU’s Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion, which honors those who have shown meritorious national or international service to the university or made exceptional achievements that reflect the central values and principles of Indiana University and contribute to the betterment of humanity.
The accolades were nice, but Rutledge’s legacy is found in the impact he still has on others at IU and beyond.
“Philip was an effective, impactful public servant who was a knowledgeable, skillful university administrator,” Bell says. “He was a beloved and impactful instructor who is a model for not only how to do and how to embrace a public service ethos but also is a model for underrepresented groups today to see that there is a path to find your way through. One of the best-kept secrets right now in public affairs is the honor and the role that Phil Rutledge had at IU.
“We have embedded in our history a foundation of bedrock that can be used to illustrate and demonstrate in a very substantive way with evidence how embracing public service, both in terms of actually doing the work and preparing leaders for tomorrow, can be done. He gets us. He understood what it is to be underrepresented and pressing through to achieving.”
Rutledge died in January 2007, but his influence would last.
In 2022 National Academy of Public Administration memorialized his contribution to social equity in the profession by instituting The Philip J. Rutledge Social Equity Leadership Award. The award honors a person demonstrating a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and present evidence of achieving social change.
“Phil was more choir master than a soloist,” Fredrickson wrote at Rutledge’s passing. “He gathered people together to make things happen. An instinctive organizer and delegator, he parceled out the work, set the deadlines, probed here, and poked there. We were all able to engage in the social equity cause because Phil engaged us. And he asked us to work for our cause.”