He answered questions Thursday in front of a crowd of 100 about his hope of becoming the next president of Bowling Green State University.
What some questioners at the candidate's forum really wanted know was his opinion of state Senate Bill 5 -- legislation pending in Columbus that would curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees, including some who work at BGSU.
The Ohio effort and a similar bill in Wisconsin have caught national attention by sparking large public protests by union members and their supporters. The two governors have said the legislation will help state and local governments balance their budgets.
Just a few hours before the one-hour forum with Mr. Ruud, about 300 students, faculty, and other supporters held a rally on campus against the pending legislation.
Mr. Ruud said the conversation about government red ink needs to be separated from the discussion about collective bargaining and the labor rights of public employees.
He was asked by a faculty member if he would follow the legislation, if it eventually becomes law this year, as is expected.
"We will follow the law. We need to reserve the right to have the most flexibility," he said. "[But] my career is about collaboration and … getting everyone to the table. You do that by not running away from each other. I will follow the law to the best of my ability, and I will continue to have conversations on campus about what works in the bill and what doesn't."
He said that the beauty of America's democracy is that laws can be changed.
As the sitting president of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Ruud said he was proud of having the fewest union grievances filed of the state's 14 public campuses. He said he's able to solve most grievances or issues "within the family" of the university.
Mr. Ruud was the first of three finalists for the BGSU top job to be questioned by students, faculty, and visitors in a public forum.
The other two finalists are Mary Ellen Mazey, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Auburn University in Alabama, and Gary L. Miller, provost and vice president for academic affairs and research at Wichita State University in Kansas.
Ms. Mazey's forum is scheduled for March 14, and Mr. Miller's is set for March 16. The forums will take place at 3:30 p.m. in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Theater, Room 206.
The three were selected from a larger pool of 35 and then from a pool of 12 semifinalists.
Eugene Sanders, former Toledo Public Schools superintendent who was chief executive officer of the Cleveland school system, was one of the 12 interviewed but did not make the top three.
Mr. Sanders, TPS superintendent from 2000-2006, retired in Cleveland on Feb. 1, seven months after receiving a three-year contract extension.
In his presentation at the beginning of the hour, Mr. Ruud stressed his nonlinear career as a plus for the university. That nontraditional path included several years working for a governor and time in the U.S. Army working in the Pentagon.
"I sought to take every opportunity I could," he said. "For me, it's a next step … I think I bring to it a unique career that has touched every part of the university."
Mr. Ruud has master's and doctoral degrees in organizational behavior, management and strategy, and organizational communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He taught at Northwestern Louisiana State University and Central Michigan University before joining the faculty at UT as an assistant professor of management.
He was later the director of undergraduate studies in the college of business and director of graduate studies. In 1989, he was named associate vice president for student affairs, and two years later was appointed interim associate director of the university honors program.
He then was named interim dean of the college of business administration, a position he held for a year before being hired as dean of the college of business and economics at Boise State University.
The candidate said his work for a governor gave him unique experience in public policy: "When you do that, love it or leave, you learn a lot."
He is in his fifth year as president of Shippensburg.
Mr. Ruud said that he will try harder to increase revenue through the ingenuity of the BGSU faculty.
At Shippensburg, he has balanced the budget by not filling empty slots. He has avoided cutting jobs that have actual humans in them, he said.
But after some time with a reduced custodial staff, for example, the school needs to be cleaner. You can't solve budget crises like that forever, he said.
"One of the mistakes we make is we start talking about cutting the budget, when we need to be talking about generating revenue."