By Jueseppi B.
Ruth Jean Simmons (born July 3, 1945) is the 18th and current president of Brown University, the first black president of an Ivy League institution. Simmons was elected Brown’s first female president in November 2000. Simmons assumed office in fall of 2001. Simmons holds appointments as a professor in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies. In 2002, Newsweek selected her as a Ms. Woman of the Year, while in 2001, Time named her as America’s best college president.
According to a March 2009 poll by The Brown Daily Herald, Simmons enjoys a more than 80% approval rating among Brown undergraduates.
On September 15, 2011 President Simmons announced that she plans to step down from the Brown presidency at the end of the current academic year, June 30, 2012. After a short leave, she will continue at Brown as Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies.
Ms. Simmons was born in Grapeland, Texas, the last of 12 children. Her father was a share cropper. She earned her bachelor’s degree, on scholarship, from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1967. She went on to earn her master’s and doctorate in Romance literature from Harvard University in 1970 and 1973, respectively.
Simmons first positions in academic administration were at the University of Southern California, starting in 1979 as assistant dean of graduate studies, and then as associate dean of graduate studies. She was a professor of Romance languages and became a dean at Princeton University from 1983 to 1990. She served as provost at Spelman College from 1990 to 1992.
In 1995 Simmons became the first African American woman to head a major college or university when she was selected as president of Smith College, which she led until 2001. As president of Smith College, Simmons started the engineering program.
Ms. Ruth Simmons became president of Brown in 2001. At Brown, she completed an ambitious $1.4 billion initiative – the largest in Brown’s history – known asBoldly Brown: The Campaign for Academic Enrichment in order to enhance Brown’s academic programs. In 2005, President Simmons earned enough confidence in her leadership of Brown to motivate philanthropist and former Brown student Sidney E. Frank to make the largest aggregate monetary contribution to Brown in its entire history in the amount of $120 million. The Frank gift was principally devoted to scholarship assistance to Brown students and to Brown’s programs in the sciences. By early 2007, President Simmons had earned the confidence of philanthropist Warren Alpert who made a similarly generous contribution to strengthen the programs of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in the amount of $100 million, matching the core portion of the Sidney Frank gift to Brown.
As reported in a May 22, 2009 press release, Brown chancellor Thomas J. Tisch announced early accomplishment of the $1.4 billion fundraising campaign and the continued pursuit of specific subsidiary goals in support of endowments for student scholarships, the Brown faculty and internationalization programs through the originally planned campaign completion date of December 31, 2010.
In a 2006 orientation meeting with parents, Simmons denied interest in the presidency of Harvard University, which at the time was headed by an interim president, Derek Bok. Nevertheless, a 2007 New York Times article, featuring a photograph of Simmons, reported that the Harvard Corporation, responsible for selecting the university’s replacement for former president Lawrence Summers, had been given a list of “potential candidates” that included her name.
In August 2007, President Simmons was invited to deliver the 60th Annual Reading of the historic 1790 George Washington Letter to Touro Synagogue at the Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island in response to Moses Seixas on the subject of religious pluralism.
In September 2011, Simmons announced that she would step down from her position as Brown President at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. She will remain at Brown as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.
President Simmons has made internationalization a strategic priority for Brown to better prepare its students for the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly interconnected world. She currently leads an ambitious international agenda that seeks to ensure that Brown students are well prepared for lives and careers that will increasingly have an international dimension; to enable the University effectively to compete for the best students and faculty available for transnational scholarly collaborations; to enhance Brown’s position in addressing global problems; to provide transnational professional development opportunities to young leaders educated at Brown; and to undertake strong dialog with peer institutions in other countries.
Simmons is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations. She has served as chair of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents and is an honorary fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Simmons also serves on the boards of Texas Instruments and Goldman Sachs. She announced in 2007 that she would not seek re-election to the board of directors of Pfizer after serving on the board for 10 years.
In February, 2010, Simmons received a BET Honors award for her service as president of Brown University. She accepted the Honor along with other nominees, including Sean Combs, Queen Latifah, and music legend Whitney Houston at a ceremony in Washington, DC.
In 2010, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her many humanitarian efforts.
Honoris Causa Degrees
- Amherst College
- Bard College
- Boston University
- Columbia University
- Dartmouth College
- Dillard University
- Ewha Womans University
- George Washington University
- Harvard University
- Howard University
- Lake Forest College
- University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Morehouse College
- Mount Holyoke College
- New York University
- Northeastern University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Princeton University
- Providence College
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Rhode Island School of Design
- Spelman College
- University of Southern California
- University of Toronto
- Tougaloo College
- Union College
- University of Vermont
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Wesleyan University
Next in the “One A Day” Black History Month Series…..Mr. Lonnie G. Johnson.
- Corner Office | Ruth J. Simmons: Ruth Simmons of Brown University, on Amiable Leadership (nytimes.com)
- Black History Month: Famous Firsts By African-Americans (themilwaukeedrum.com)
Filed under: Black History, History, News, Race, Women's Causes | Tagged: Africana Studies, Brown, Brown Daily Herald, Brown University, Harvard University, Ruth Simmons, Sidney Frank, Simmons | 17 Comments »