President Ruth Simmons said publicly last week that she intends to carry out her term as Brown’s leader, ending months of speculation that she might abruptly depart to become Harvard University’s next president.
The statement came last Wednesday in response to a question from a parent at an Orientation colloquium for parents of incoming first-years. The parent asked Simmons whether she would consider leaving Brown for Harvard, according to people who attended the event.
When asked about the exchange in an interview with The Herald, Simmons said she could not recall precisely what she said but that she intended to express that she will continue as Brown’s president as long as the Brown Corporation allows her to do so.
“I think what I said was that I felt extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do at Brown,” Simmons recalled in the interview. “I was just saying that I was very happy and satisfied to be at Brown and that I could think of no better job. I think I even conceded as a Harvard alum that that was a perfectly respectable place and I wish them the best as they search for a president. I look forward to welcoming that person as a fellow president.”
Simmons told the Providence Journal last year that the Brown presidency will be her last job. The article suggested she expected to stay at Brown for 10 years – the duration of most university presidents’ tenure. July marked her five-year anniversary as president.
After Lawrence Summers announced his resignation as Harvard’s president in February, Simmons was often mentioned by academics and in media reports about potential successors for Summers.
In February, former Harvard and current Princeton University professor Cornel West and Judith Ryan, the Harvard German and comparative literature professor who authored the no-confidence motion that precipitated Summers’ resignation, both said publicly that Simmons was a promising candidate for Harvard’s presidency. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in February that Simmons was “among the names that came up most frequently.”
The president’s office consistently refused to comment last semester on Simmons’ interest in the Harvard presidency.
Other university presidents thought to be top candidates for the Harvard job – including Shirley Tilghman of Princeton University, Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania and Lee Bollinger of Columbia University – told student newspapers at their universities that they were not interested in leaving for Harvard. Nannerl Keohane, the former president of Wellesley College and Duke University and an oft-mentioned candidate to succeed Summers, told the Boston Globe in March that she too was not interested in the position.
Former Harvard President Derek Bok became interim president over the summer when Summers left office. A search committee to find a new president was formed in March and is expected to complete its work by next summer.