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Rising Star Dr. William Ruger


From military service to civil-military research,
political scientist brings unusual experience to the classroom

Dr. Ruger in Kuwait desert
Ruger in the Kuwait desert
Dr. Ruger in Zabul, Afghanistan
In Zabul, Afghanistan
Outreach at a hospital in Afghanistan
Outreach at an Afghan hospital
In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem

Political scientist William Ruger speaks to issues that are important to America’s political and social life, through his teaching and writing on international politics, civil-military relations, and political economy.

An assistant professor of political science at Texas State since 2007, Ruger has focused his work on topics ranging from the effects of military service and combat on soldiers’ marriages to the effects of foreign direct investment on government repression and the onset of civil war. His coauthored study titled Freedom in the 50 States, which ranks the states according to their policies affecting economic and personal freedoms, has brought him national recognition (See Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom, published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University).
 
“For teachers to be good in the classroom, it’s important for us to be engaged in scholarship,” Ruger said. “Scholarship stimulates teaching, and teaching stimulates scholarship.
 
“The process of learning to explain complicated subjects to students continues to introduce me to topics that I want to explore in more depth,” he said.
 
He recently turned one of those topics into a critical intellectual biography of the economic theorist Milton Friedman, published in 2011 by Continuum Press as part of a series on conservative and libertarian thinkers. The book, titled Milton Friedman, has been acclaimed for its lucid explanations of Friedman’s complex arguments on political and economic theory and public policy. 
 
To Ruger, one of Friedman’s most interesting arguments is his advocacy for an all-volunteer armed force. An officer in the Navy Reserve, Ruger was just beginning to write his book on Friedman in 2008 when he was deployed to Afghanistan.
 
“It’s ironic that, when I was sent to Afghanistan, I was a member of our all-volunteer force, and I was working on a biography of the father of the all-volunteer force,” he said.
 
“Like Friedman, I don’t believe in having a large peacetime military, so I thought it was important for citizens to contribute in wartime,” he continued, explaining why he volunteered for armed service.

“Also, my studies have focused on some of the security issues that concern us as a nation, and I thought I could contribute, based on my expertise. I also thought that the Afghan war was in the U.S. national interest. But I had no skin in the game, so I decided that I should step up to the plate and be a reservist. I knew what I was getting into.”
 
Ruger was stationed in Kabul for a little less than a year as a Naval officer, supporting ISAF’s counterinsurgency effort in southern Afghanistan. He has translated his experiences in Afghanistan to his classroom at Texas State.
 
“Before I went to Afghanistan, I taught counterinsurgency theory in my security class,” he said. “Now I think I bring my students a different perspective from the average professor of international relations, on a range of issues. For example, I can explain, from personal experience, what it’s like to function in the military, as part of a complex government bureaucracy. I’ve observed interactions between the State Department and the military and foreign governments. And, to some extent, I know what it feels like to be a soldier. Even though I’m in the Navy, I essentially worked for the Army, had an Army boss, and even wore the Army Combat Uniform downrange.
 
“I’ve also discovered that some of the best officers and counterinsurgents are reservists, because they bring their varied experiences and the critical thinking abilities they’ve developed in their civilian lives,” he continued. “And who better to conduct a meeting with Afghan locals, for example, than someone who had been a mayor or who had sat on a city council?”
 
Since his return from Afghanistan, Ruger has taught a course on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas-Austin, in addition to his Texas State classes.
 
He also attends military training and symposia around the world that give him new material for his classroom. A visit to South Korea in uniform followed the publication of an op-ed recommending ways to respond to North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan. Later, on a visit to Israel with other professors, Ruger was in an Israeli military facility when an alarm went off signaling that a rocket attack had been launched from Gaza. He also spoke with victims of terrorist attacks, and he observed Israel’s measures to reduce casualties from attacks. All of this activity contributes to his classroom’s discussions of the tradeoffs between security and liberty and equality.
 
Soon, Ruger will go to Guatemala and China to lecture and to bring home new discussion material for his international relations classroom.
 
“Being a professor is a great job,” Ruger said. “It’s important that we not just do pure science but that we do policy-relevant science, too. Being able to speak to issues that are important to our political and social life is valuable.”