|February 6, 2008|
President Ruth J. Simmons of Brown to speak at Commencement
President Ruth J. Simmons of Brown University
Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons, a prominent national leader in higher education and the first African-American president of an Ivy League institution, will be the featured speaker at Commencement, College officials announced today.
Approximately 500 students in the Class of 2008 are expected to receive their degrees during the ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 15, on Hull Plaza.
Simmons, who will receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters, is noted for her commitment to diversity and engineering, two key initiatives that are also integral to the Union campus.
At Brown, Simmons has created an ambitious set of initiatives designed to expand and strengthen the faculty; increase financial support and resources for undergraduate, graduate and medical students; improve facilities; renew a broad commitment to shared governance; and ensure that diversity informs every dimension of the university.
Before becoming president of Brown in 2001, Simmons was president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. While there, she launched a number of strategic initiatives to strengthen the college’s academic programs, including the creation of the first engineering program at an American women’s college.
Union College President Stephen C. Ainlay praised Simmons for her educational vision and leadership.
“I am absolutely thrilled that Ruth Simmons will be our Commencement speaker,” Ainlay said. “She has been an important leader in American higher education for many years and we are honored that she has accepted our invitation.”
Simmons was born in 1945 in Grapeland, Texas, where her family worked as sharecroppers in the cotton fields. It was a time of segregation, and Simmons was told to step aside when a white person approached, and never to answer them back.
“I very quickly became socialized into believing I was worthless,” she recalled in a 2006 interview. “Grapeland was the kind of small, east Texas town where blacks got murdered if they stepped out of line.”
When she was seven, the family moved to Houston, where opportunities opened up.
“People bothered to insist I went to school and I loved it,” she said in the interview. “There was a calm and order that was missing elsewhere in my life. But, above all, there were books. My parents were deeply suspicious about my reading, but for me it opened a window into a different reality, where it was possible for someone like me to be accepted.”
A 1967 graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, Simmons received her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1973. She is fluent in French and has written on the works of David Diop and Aime Cesaire.
In 1983, after serving as associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, Simmons joined the Princeton University administration. She remained at Princeton for seven years, leaving in 1990 for two years to serve as provost at Spelman College. Returning to Princeton in 1992 as vice provost, she remained at the university until June 30, 1995.
Simmons is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on a number of boards, including the Howard University Board of Trustees, Texas Instruments, and the Goldman Sachs Group. She holds honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities, including Amherst College, Howard University, Princeton University, Dartmouth College and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Simmons is the recipient of a number of prizes and fellowships, including the German DAAD and a Fulbright Fellowship to France. In 2004 she received the ROBIE Humanitarian Award, given by the Jackie Robinson Foundation; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; and the chairman’s award of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She was selected as a Newsweek “person to watch” and as a Ms. Woman of the Year in 2002. In 2001 Time magazine named her America’s best college president. In 2007, she was named one of U. S. News & World Report’s top U.S. leaders and — for the second time — a Glamour magazine Woman of the Year.
She has been a featured speaker at the White House, the World Economic Forum, the National Press Club, the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education. In September 2001 ABC News tapped her to serve as a respondent during its live telecast following President Bush’s address to Congress.
Union College, founded in 1795 as the first college chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, offers programs in the liberal arts and engineering to 2,100 undergraduates of high academic promise and strong personal motivation. Union, with its long history of blending disciplines, is a leader in educating students to be engaged, innovative, and ethical contributors to an increasingly diverse, global and technologically complex society.
The first liberal arts college to offer engineering, Union will host a national symposium on integrating engineering, technology and the traditional liberal arts May 9-10, 2008.