Clyde Ruffin receives President's Community Engagement Award

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 7:02 p.m. CDT; updated 5:00 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

COLUMBIA — Every year, the President’s Community Engagement Award is given to one faculty member from a University of Missouri System campus.

The 2012 award was given to Clyde Ruffin, chairman of the Theatre Department at MU and a professor of acting, vocal performance and African-American theater. He was nominated by Heather Carver, director of graduate studies in the Theatre Department.

“The award is given to a recognized faculty member who not only excels at the university but in the community as well,” said Laura Lindsey, director of communication for the College of Arts and Science.

The person who wins is also a promoter of cultural, spiritual and social development in the community, Lindsey said.

Ruffin is engaged in many different community projects, but said the thing he’s most proud of is starting the James T. Scott Monument Committee.

The committee raised funds for a gravestone for an African-American man, James T. Scott, who was lynched in 1923. There were enough funds leftover for a monument in recognition of former slaves buried in unmarked graves in the Columbia Cemetery.

“It’s always nice to receive recognition for the work you’re attempting to do," Ruffin said. "I haven’t done anything in the community that anyone that has a heart for others wouldn’t have done.”

A surprise celebration was held for Ruffin on Monday afternoon in the Rhynsburger Theatre on the corner of Hitt Street and University Avenue.

There was a standing ovation when he walked in, Lindsey said.

“I thought the award had already been given out," Ruffin said. "I knew I was nominated but had completely forgotten about it."

Others at the celebration noticed Ruffin's surprise.

“Someone said that since he was wearing jeans, he must have been surprised,” Lindsey said. “He typically dresses a little nicer if he’s in front of an audience.”

At the celebration, Ruffin received written documentation of the award, but the official ceremony will be held June 20 where he will also receive $5,000.

“The most amazing thing was to see how many people were there and to see people that represent so many different areas of my life,” Ruffin said. “It was overwhelming.”

Ruffin came to MU 30 years ago when African-American students in the theater department believed they weren’t being treated fairly and began protesting. Ruffin said Richard Wallace, dean of the College of Arts and Science at the time, brought him in as a mediator.

As a solution for the protest,  Ruffin commuted from St. Louis every Thursday to teach a class for the theater students.

After two years of teaching weekly classes, Wallace invited Ruffin to teach at MU full-time.

Each year, several President’s Awards are given to benefits-eligible faculty members of one of the four UM campuses. There are two categories of faculty engagement awards: the Community Engagement Award and the Cross-Cultural Engagement Award.

Any benefits-eligible faculty member or administrator can nominate a candidate, then representatives from each campus choose the winner of the awards. Last year, the community engagement award went to Mary Kay Kisthardt, law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Ruffin said he was not prepared to give a speech at the celebration and didn’t know what to say, so instead he's sending out thank you notes and emails. 

"They’re much more coherent,” Ruffin said. 

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