Brown University President Simmons to Retire

An Ivy League transition

Ruth Simmons

Ruth J. Simmons, Ph.D. ’73, LL.D. ’02, president of Brown University since July 2001, announced today that she would step down at the end of the current academic year (although she has agreed to serve until a successor is named). The university’s news release cited the 20 percent increase in the faculty ranks during her administration, along with increased financial aid and deeper international academic relationships. She led a $1.6-billion “Boldly Brown” fundraising campaign to pay for these and other initiatives.

Following a leave, she intends to return to Brown as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies. In a personal message to the community conveying news of her decision, Simmons called her work at Brown “the most satisfying of a long, and from my perspective, nearly idyllic career,” proceeding from early life circumstances “that argued against the possibility that I could ever attend college.”

When her Harvard honorary degree was conferred (“Opening minds, opening doors, opening eyes to new opportunities, she has spurred higher education higher with inspiring providence”), the Commencement crowd was reminded that Simons had been born in Grapeland, Texas, the twelfth child of sharecroppers and the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, and that she had risen to the presidency of Smith College before her appointment to lead Brown. In 2007, she appeared on a panel of fellow-Ivy League presidents who happened to be women, organized by Radcliffe Institute dean Drew Faust. By the time the conversation took place, as it happened, Faust had been named Harvard’s president, and so the discussion became, de facto, a sort of tutorial for the newest member of this elite sorority. 

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