An Hour with President Simmons

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey ’78 / May/June 2011
June 2nd, 2011

On Saturday morning of Reunion weekend, Ruth Simmons accepted a big check— physically as well as financially—for $160, 508,771 from alumni in reunion classes. Included in that sum was a record $3.5 million from the twenty-fifth reunion class. “That will buy a lot of shoes,” she joked, and then explained to those who looked a little confused, “It’s a myth that women love shoes.”

The early-morning crowd on Lincoln Field was sparser than usual; young alums seemed to have slept in after attending Campus Dance the night before.  So Simmons briefed early risers on the year’s highlights, from research to new construction to financial aid. The class of 2015, she reported, will be the most diverse ever, and the state most represented will be California.

She spoke particularly passionately about the need to reduce students’ debt burden so that all are free participate in research, study abroad, and community service. “We have nothing against high-paying jobs,” she joked, “but given the needs of our society, we want our students to be able to teach as well as go into investment banking.”  That drew a burst of applause, as did her assurance that teaching remains the centerpiece of the Brown education.

After Simmons’s roundup, she and her top administrators took questions about issues facing Brown and society. Bob Samuels ’81 asked her thoughts about the decline of state funding for higher education, and she warned that the privatization of state universities and the increase in tuitions “puts the U.S. at a disadvantage when compared to other countries.” Broad access to education was what fueled the economy post- World War II, she said.

Matt Wald ’76 described tensions that split the campus during the post-Vietnam and Watergate-era, and asked Simmons whether U.S. society might be even more divisive now. “The culture has to create a different dynamic,” she said, to make “our country return to a place of civil engagement.”

Click here to watch a video of the event.

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May/June 2011