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David Ruder, former Northwestern Law dean, dies at 90

Served as SEC chairman, was a leading scholar in corporate and securities law

David S. Ruder, dean of Northwestern University School of Law from 1977 to 1985 and former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), died February 15. He was 90 years old. 

Ruder, a brilliant leader and the William W. Gurley Memorial Professor of Law Emeritus, joined the Northwestern Law faculty in 1961. As dean he helped plan the construction of the Rubloff Building and the remodeling of Levy Mayer and McCormick Halls, and he recruited several distinguished scholars to join the Law School faculty. He also led a $25 million Law School capital campaign and helped persuade the American Bar Association and the American Bar Foundation to move their headquarters to the Rubloff Building. 

“David took such delight and pride in the Law School,” said Kimberly Yuracko, dean of Northwestern Pritzker Law. “For me personally, he was a dear friend, mentor and advisor. David welcomed me with warmth and kindness when I joined our faculty and was always generous with his time, wisdom and support.” 

Expert on antifraud rules

A leading scholar in corporate and securities law, Ruder taught courses in enforcement, insider trading, tender offers and other regulatory topics, writing some of his earliest scholarly papers on insider trading issues and becoming known as an expert on the SEC’s antifraud rules. 

Ruder became Professor of Law Emeritus on Sept. 1, 2005, and continued to teach at the Law School through the academic year 2016-2017. He was the author of many papers and articles in the area of corporate and securities law, testified before Congress 45 times, and made more than 600 speeches and public appearances. He participated as a committee chairman or member in the preparation of 12 substantive public policy securities and corporate law reports. 

“The thing about David Ruder is that you always knew he had his eye on the ball, the goal being building — and not just literally — the honesty and strength of our legal education, while preparing students, and insisting from our community that the highest professional standards be upheld,” said friend and office companion Leigh Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern Pritzker Law.   

SEC chair

Ruder served as chairman of the SEC from Aug. 7, 1987, to Sept. 30, 1989. When President Ronald Reagan nominated him for the position, the late Donald P. Jacobs, dean of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management at the time, said in a Chicago Tribune article, “If toughness is needed, he’ll be tough.” 

During his service as chairman of the SEC, Ruder confronted what is still the largest single-day stock market crash in United States history, on October 19, 1987. The Dow Jones Industrial average fell over 20% and regulators had to confront new and complex issues relating to program trading and illiquidity in the markets. Working with President Reagan, the Department of Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Congress, and the Exchanges, the SEC implemented new mechanisms to protect the markets, including “circuit breakers” that are still in place today.

He also supervised enforcement actions against violators of anti-fraud laws, initiated a program aimed at eliminating penny stock fraud, and expanded SEC initiatives pertaining to international securities regulation.

Continuing legal ed champion

Returning to the Law School following his time in Washington, Ruder was instrumental in planning for three annual continuing legal education programs in securities and corporate law: the Corporate Counsel Institute (Chicago), the Securities Regulation Institute (San Diego) and the Ray Garrett Jr. Corporate and Securities Law Institute (Chicago).

From 2002 to 2010 he served as the founding chairman of the Mutual Fund Directors Forum, a not-for-profit organization devoted to educating independent mutual fund directors. In 2015 he served as co-chair of a program presented in Washington, D.C., on “The Future of the Securities and Exchange Commission in a Changing World,” presented by The American Assembly of Columbia University and other organizations, which examined policies, approaches and strategies aimed at improving the effectiveness of the SEC in the new financial and global environment. 

David took such delight and pride in the Law School.

Said Henry Bienen, former president of Northwestern University: “David Ruder was an honorable and upstanding public servant and academic leader. He made great contributions through his service as chair of the SEC and dean of Northwestern’s now Pritzker School of Law to which he also contributed over the years as a distinguished member of the faculty. He will be missed by his many friends and colleagues.”

Ruder was once asked what he was most proud of in his career, during an interview for a Northwestern Law oral history project. He pointed both to his scholarly work and his time at the SEC.

“I'm proud of the fact that in my early days I wrote a lot of articles that people cared about, I'm proud about being involved in continuing legal education,” Ruder said. “And I can't tell you how many times I meet somebody on the street, and they say, ‘Professor Ruder, I had you for securities regulation, and you really enthused me, and now I'm a securities lawyer.’

“And I really was pleased with what I did at the SEC. I still have people come to me from the SEC and they say you were one of our best chairmen ever. They're not talking about the results that I got. They're talking about the fact that I listened to them. I took their points of view, and I changed my mind if I was wrong.”

Tom Geraghty, Class of 1967 James B. Haddad Professor of Law and former director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker Law, said he loved working under the guidance of David Ruder when he was dean. 

“He was a brilliant leader — ambitious, confident, hard driving and yet kind,” Geraghty said. “He was responsible for attracting outstanding faculty to the school and he built a magnificent building. He successfully encouraged his colleagues to do their best work. We always felt that he was in our corner. He was our colleague, our leader and our friend.”

Son of a lawyer

Ruder was born May 25, 1929, in Wausau, Wisconsin. He received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in 1951 from Williams College and his law degree with honors in 1957 from the University of Wisconsin, graduating first in his class and serving as editor in chief of the Law Review. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. 

The son of a lawyer, Ruder returned to his home state of Wisconsin after serving in the Army to attend law school, with plans to practice law with his father. 

“My dad was a lawyer and without knowing it, you follow in your father’s footsteps,” Ruder said. He would go on to practice law in Milwaukee at Quarles, Harriott, and Teschner, now Quarles and Brady. He would also serve as of counsel at Schiff Hardin (Chicago), and as partner and senior counsel at Baker & McKenzie (Chicago). 

Ruder was a member of numerous organizations and served on several boards throughout his career including the Joint CFTC-SEC Advisory Committee on Emerging Regulatory Issues; Mutual Fund Directors Forum; Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Advisory Council; International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation; Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society; National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc.; Task Force on the Future of Shared State and Federal Securities Regulation; American Bar Association Section of Business Law; American Law Institute; and Committee on Professional Responsibility of the Illinois Supreme Court.

He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on May 17, 2002. In 2007, he received the William O. Douglas Award conferred annually by the Association of Securities and Exchange Commission Alumni (ASECA) on an SEC alumnus who has contributed to the development of the federal securities laws and served the financial and SEC community with distinction. In 2009, he received the Institutional Investor Mutual Fund Industry Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016 joined the American College of Corporate Governance as an honorary fellow. 

Ruder is survived by his wife, Susan; daughter, Julia Ruder San Fratello (Charles San Fratello); sons, David S. Ruder II and John C. Ruder (Kate Ruder); stepchildren, Elizabeth Frankel (Charles Steinhorn) and Rebecca Wilkinson; and grandchildren, Jack and Ashley Ruder, Nathalie San Fratello, Wes and Quinn Ruder, Sarah and Maureen Steinhorn, and Travis and Aurora Wilkinson. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Victoria “Tory” Ruder (Peter Phillips) and sister, Josephine Stone.