November 10, 2000

Brown Makes Historical Appointment

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Brown University made history yesterday by appointing its first female president and the first African-American president in the Ivy League.

Ruth J. Simmons, president of Smith College, will become Brown’s 18th president on July 1, succeeding E. Gordon Gee, who resigned last February to become chancellor of Vanderbilt University. Simmons will replace interim President Sheila E. Blumstein.

In an open letter to the Smith community, Simmons said that her experience at the college was “an unforgettably moving and happy one for me.”

“She’s been a wonderful president, and she’s really inspired the school,” Charles Staelin, dean for academic development at Smith, told The Brown Daily Herald Wednesday. “We’re very sorry to see her leave.”

The youngest of 12 children and the daughter of a sharecropper, Simmons told yesterday’s press conference that increasing financial aid at Brown was a “moral imperative.”

“I’m very interested in finding ways for students who come from least favorable circumstances to be able to come to Brown,” she said.

During her five years at Smith, Simmons initiated the first undergraduate engineering program at a woman’s college, increased the endowment and launched a number of major building projects.

“She is truly beloved by faculty, staff and students at Smith, and we have every reason to believe she will be a star at Brown,” said Brown Chancellor Stephen Robert.

Simmons served as vice provost at Princeton University before assuming the presidency at Smith. Prior to that, she served as provost at Spelman College and associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California.

“The qualities we were looking for was someone who had great vision for all the leaders on campus … someone who could bring faculty, staff and students together,” said Jill Lawlor, who chaired the Staff Advisory Committee during the nine-month presidential search.

Cornell President Emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes also contributed to the selection process.

Simmons will remain at Smith through commencement in May; the search for a new president will begin immediately.

Brown, with Harvard and Princeton, is one of three Ivy League universities introducing a new president this year. Brown has been the first to make an official appointment.

Archived article by Beth Herskovits