Ruth Simmons

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Ruth J. Simmons
18th President of Brown University
In office
October 14, 2001 – June 30, 2012
Preceded by Gordon Gee
Succeeded by Christina Paxson
9th president of Smith College
In office
Preceded by Mary Maples Dunn
Succeeded by Carol T. Christ
Personal details
Born Ruth Jean Stubblefield
(1945-07-03) July 3, 1945 (age 71)
Grapeland, Texas, U.S.
Spouse(s) Norbert Alonzo Simmons
Children Khari C. Simmons
Maya A. Simmons
Residence Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Alma mater Dillard University
Harvard University
Religion Christianity

Ruth Simmons (born Ruth Jean Stubblefield;[1][2] July 3, 1945) was the 18th president of Brown University, the first black president of an Ivy League institution. Simmons was elected Brown's first female president in November 2000.[3] 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 had more than an 80% approval rating among Brown undergraduates.[4]

On September 15, 2011, Simmons announced that she would step down from the Brown presidency at the end of the academic year, June 30, 2012. She initially said she would continue at Brown as Professor of Comparative Literature and Africana Studies after a short leave.[5] However, as of 2016, Simmons has not returned to Brown's faculty.[6][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Simmons was born in Grapeland, Texas, the last of 12 children of Fanny (née Campbell) and Isaac Stubblefield.[8][9] Her father was a sharecropper, until the family moved to Houston during her school years. Her paternal grandfather descends partly from the Benza and Kota people, slaves from Gabon.[10][11] 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.

Academic positions[edit]

Simmons's 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.[12] 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.

Smith College presidency[edit]

In 1995 Simmons became the first African-American woman to head a major college or university[13] when she was selected as president of Smith College, which she led until 2001. As president of Smith College, Simmons started the engineering program.

Brown University presidency[edit]

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 as Boldly 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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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, remaining at Brown as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.

Goldman Sachs[edit]

Simmons earned an annual salary of over $300,000 while serving on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs during the late-2000s financial crisis, and left the position with over $4.3 million in Goldman stock.[17] During her term, the ten person board decided how large Goldman's post-crash bonuses would be; these bonuses included an over $9 million bonus for the company's chairman and CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein.[18] The revelations of Simmons's role received intense criticism from both alumni and students, with a then-sophomore stating that Simmons's actions "brought shame on the university."[19] Simmons was cited in the 2010 film Inside Job, as an example of the conflicts of interest between university economics departments and deregulation of financial institutions.[20]

Transnational initiatives at Brown[edit]

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 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.

As the wealth that the founding Brown family contributed to the university was based in part on the triangular slave trade, in 2003 Simmons established the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice to examine this complex history and make recommendations for how the university might approach the relevant issues.[21][22] The Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice was subsequently published. On February 16, 2007 at an event celebrating the 200-year anniversary of the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and the involvement of Cambridge University alumni William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and William Pitt the Younger, Simmons delivered a lecture at St. John's College, Cambridge entitled Hidden in Plain Sight: Slavery and Justice in Rhode Island.[23] Also in February 2007, Brown University published its official Response to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice following completion of the historic inquiry undertaken by the committee appointed by President Simmons. The bicentenary of the British abolition of the slave trade was also commemorated at Oxford University, notably at Rhodes House.[24]

In October 2007, Simmons appointed David W. Kennedy, the former Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School as vice president for international affairs. In addition to supporting the leadership of the Watson Institute for International Studies, the new university officer will lead a multidisciplinary advanced research project in the field of global law, governance and social thought to strengthen the University’s international work in the social sciences.[25]

As an additional element of President Simmons’ leadership of Brown’s international efforts, Brown and Banco Santander of Spain inaugurated an annual series of International Advanced Research Institutes to convene a rising generation of scholars from emerging and developing countries at Brown in a signing ceremony on November 13, 2008, at the John Hay Library between Brown provost David Kertzer and Emilio Botin, chairman of Banco Santander.[26] As noted by President Simmons: "To be at the forefront of research today means being in conversation with global peers. The Brown Institutes provide exciting opportunities to encounter new ideas, build collegial relationships and enrich faculty development for young scholars and teachers from around the world."[27]

In March 2010, President Simmons traveled to India as part of a major program called the Year of India which is dedicated to the improvement of understanding of Indian history, politics, education and culture among Brown students and faculty.[28][29]

President Simmons has been invited to participate in meetings of global leaders organized by the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum at Davos.

Civic activities[edit]

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 , Goldman Sachs and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. 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.[30]

On June 17, 2009, The White House announced that President Barack Obama had appointed Dr. Simmons to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.[31]

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, D.C.

In 2010, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her many humanitarian efforts.

Honoris Causa degrees[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Listed as "Ruth Geary Stubblefield" on the Texas Birth Records, could be a typo; According to the Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 -
  2. ^ Barry beckham, "Dr Ruth J. Simmons - Precedent-setting president", The Crisis, March-April 2001, p.24.
  3. ^ A New President for Brown University New York Times, November 11, 2000.
  4. ^ Students support 'Fall Weekend' The Brown Daily Herald, March 30, 2009
  5. ^ Sept 15: Announcement of intent to step down at end of academic year at the Wayback Machine (archived May 6, 2012)
  6. ^ "Brown directory". Retrieved 2 December 2016. 
  7. ^ "Editorial: Come back, Professor Ruth Simmons". Brown Daily Herald. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 2 December 2016. 
  8. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS, April 29, 2012
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ The Boston Globe: Brown president Ruth Simmons traces ‘Roots’.
  11. ^ Your genetic
  12. ^ USC Perspectives 10/08/01.
  13. ^ First Black Heroes - Successful African Americans Washington Post, William Wan, April 22, 2016.
  14. ^ ‘Boldly Brown’ Campaign Crosses the $1.4-Billion Mark; Work Continues Press Release from Brown University, May 22, 2009.
  15. ^ Headhunters at Harvard May Pick a Woman ALAN FINDER, January 8, 2007, The New York Times.
  16. ^ Brown President Ruth J. Simmons to Speak at Touro Synagogue Press Release from Brown University, August 15, 2007.
  17. ^ Questions at Brown on Ruth Simmons's Role at Goldman New York Times, Graham Bowley, March 1, 2010.
  18. ^ Questions at Brown on Ruth Simmons's Role at Goldman New York Times, Graham Bowley, March 1, 2010.
  19. ^ Questions at Brown on Ruth Simmons's Role at Goldman New York Times, Graham Bowley, March 1, 2010.
  20. ^ Inside Job, Charles Ferguson, 2010.
  21. ^ Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice from Brown University
  22. ^ “Peculiar Institutions,” The New Yorker, September 12, 2005, p. 68.
  23. ^ Slavery: Then and Now Anti-Slavery Conference at St John's College, February 2007
  24. ^ Oxford Today, Vol. 19, No. 2.
  25. ^ David Kennedy Named Vice President for International Affairs Press Release on International Affairs from Brown University, October 13, 2007.
  26. ^ Watson Institute
  27. ^ Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI)
  28. ^ Ruth J. Simmons | We want our students to be aware of India Live Mint, March 30, 2010.
  29. ^ Year of India Brown University's Year of India.
  30. ^ Simmons to step down from Pfizer board Ross Frazier, The Brown Daily Herald, April 4, 2007.
  31. ^ President Obama Announces Appointments to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships The White House, June 17, 2009.
  32. ^

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Mary Maples Dunn
President of Smith College
Succeeded by
Carol Christ
Preceded by
Gordon Gee
President of Brown University
October 14, 2001 – June 30, 2012
Succeeded by
Christina Paxson