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In an unexpected announcement, President Ruth J. Simmons revealed on September 15 that she will step down as Brown's chief executive at the end of this academic year. She will continue at Brown as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies. 

Ruth_2011.jpg
Frank Mullin
"Eleven deeply satisfying years." says President Simmons. 
In a letter thanking the Brown community for "eleven deeply satisfying years at the helm of this wonderful institution," Simmons explained that she had originally intended to end her presidency at the end of ten years but was persuaded by Corporation officers to stay on. "However," she wrote, "after much thought, I recently decided that this is the ideal time both for Brown and for me personally to begin the process of transitioning to new leadership."

Simmons, who became Brown's eighteenth president on July 3, 2001, ends one of the most dynamic presidencies in Brown's history. Born in a sharecropper shack on a Grapeland, Texas, cotton farm, Simmons, the youngest of twelve children, attended Dillard University on financial aid and eventually earned a PhD in Romance languages from Harvard. Simmons made it clear early in her presidency that giving poor and lower-middle-class high-schoolers the same opportunity that financial aid afforded her would be a top priority for her administration.

Three years later, thanks largely to the unlikely friendship that evolved between Simmons and liquor billionaire Sidney Frank '42—a friendship that resulted in a $100 million gift from Frank—Simmons admitted Brown's first need-blind class, declaring that an applicant's financial status would no longer have any bearing on his or her admission to the University.

"I began life in circumstances that argued against the possibility that I could ever attend college," Simmons wrote to the Brown community. "That financial aid enabled my desire not only to get a college education but also to devote my life to extending that same opportunity to others has been a benefaction of incomparable personal meaning."

Simmons took over an institution still shaken by the sudden resignation of President Gordon Gee, and in essence told Brown to start acting like the world-class university it aspired to be. She crafted an ambitious academic blueprint, known as the Plan for Academic Enrichment, and raised a record $1.6 billion to pay for it, three times more money than any other Brown president had ever raised.

Under Simmons's plan, research at Brown got an important boost when the graduate and medical schools expanded and received more support. The medical school opened a new headquarters near the teaching hospitals in downtown Providence, giving the school the first real home in its history. Simmons has also been responsible for the largest faculty expansion in recent history, hiring more than 100 new faculty members, about half of them permanent tenured appointments. In addition, Simmons changed the look of the campus by finding ways to increase lab and classroom capacity within Brown's existing physical footprints. Buildings such as Pembroke Hall, Rhode Island Hall, Metcalf Chemistry Lab, Faunce House, and J. Walter Wilson were gutted, renovated, and often repurposed, while new buildings such as the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and the Aquatics and Fitness Center were built from the ground up.

A favorite of students, who literally cheered at every one of her campus appearances, Simmons also moved Brown closer to a truly multidisciplinary academic approach, forming a number of specialized centers that focus research on important contemporary issues by bringing together faculty members from several disciplines. She also united the Pembroke and Brown campuses by creating a new walkway that made going from one campus to the other a pleasurable and natural stroll.

"Look," Simmons told the BAM before becoming president, "I'm not going to be a symbolic president for Brown. I expect my hands will be in more things than people want. And the place will just have to live with that, I guess."






Comments (7)
10/13/11
 
Ruth Simmons gave me more hope for Brown than any preceding president, and for me that starts in 1958 with Barnaby Keeney. Except for Vartan Gregorian, who was also a shining light, they've all been conservative white men. I'll cop to being white and Jewish, but I hope from Gregorian and Simmons and the disaster named Gordon Gee, that Brown has learned a few things about how to select a president. Good luck.
 
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10/13/11
 
I was able to attend Brown because of a scholarship. Need blind admission for Brown is a proud milestone for me. My husband and I met at Brown and married in Manning Chapel. My son and daughter-in-law are Brown graduates. We love Brown and have been energized by Ruth Simmons even more. When I first heard the students cheering and chanting, "Ruth, Ruth, Ruth" - I realized even more the way that she has touched the University and all who love it. We will miss her.
 
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10/13/11
 
I echo the words of Philip Lewitt. Few things in my life have swelled my heart with pride and joy so much as Ruth Simmon's election/elevation to the presidency of Brown. Like Jean Cohen I too benefitted from scholarship aid, and I applaud the move to blind admissions. No wonder President Simmons has been a favorite with the students. I wish I could be there with them to chant, "Ruth, Ruth, Ruth."
 
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10/14/11
 
Upon reading this article (and as always, looking forward to receiving and thoroughly reading my BAM since graduation), I was reminded of how deeply & humbly proud I am of President Simmons' accomplished/historic tenure at Brown. It has been an amazingly exciting & personally gratifying experience to have attended her Inauguration Weekend in Oct. 2001, which coincided with Alumni Leadership Weekend then read & have the pleasure of watching her on the BET Awards & Tavis Smiley's syndicated talk show (and numerous other media venues). 
 
Muchas Gracias!, Pres. Ruth J. Simmons for all that you've done for Brown (and throughout your stellar career in education). Best Wishes in all your future endeavors (both personally & professionally). 
 
PEACE & BLESSINGS!
 
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10/14/11
 
President Simmons' reach extended well beyond Brown's campus. She has been an inspiration to many of us for whom attending Brown is but a fond memory, and has managed to make us feel that we remain an integral part of the school. She is truly an amazing and an exceptional person. I have enjoyed every moment of her presidency. In fact, my only lamentation is that her presidency did not begin earlier, so that I could have had her signature, rather than Gordon Gee's, on my degree.
 
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10/20/11
 
RUTH! RUTH! RUTH! RUTH! Smith AAF!
 
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12/09/11
 
I agree with Pitts. The President's influence reached far beyond New England shores, extending as far as the Pacific, where I am, and you know how we look at America from this end of the globe. Ruth shone for us in the academia for more than a decade we should say even though I left Brown in 1984.
 
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