President Ruth Simmons, the first black president in Ivy League history, will step down at the end of the academic year, she announced Thursday morning.
Simmons, who was also the second female president in the Ivy League, took the helm as the University’s 18th president in 2001. She told The Herald she originally intended to step down after 10 years — about the average for Ivy League presidents — but stayed on an extra year at the behest of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
Simmons said she came to the decision at the end of the summer. She told a few members of the Corporation — including Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 — of her intention to leave at a meeting Aug. 16. Though Simmons and Tisch considered announcing her resignation at the upcoming meeting of the Corporation Oct. 20-22, they decided the Brown community should learn the news sooner.
“This was the soonest we thought we could do it, of course not wanting to disrupt the opening of the semester,” Simmons said.
Though the Corporation usually takes at least a year to select a new president, both Simmons and Tisch expressed confidence that there would be sufficient time to find the right successor by spring. A group within the Corporation is responsible for presidential succession plans.
Tisch told The Herald in March that he expected Simmons to stay on as president “for the foreseeable future.”
Simmons said now is the right time to step down because of the “wonderfully expanded faculty,” “brilliant and capable” new administrators and the University’s current financial health.
“The time to make the transition is when you’re strong,” she said. “I believe, myself, that this is a time to do that, because we’re past that crisis — that financial crisis. We are on an upward trajectory.”
The rest of the Corporation was informed of Simmons’ decision Thursday, according to Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations. Tisch said Corporation members expressed the “greatest gratitude and deepest respect” for Simmons upon hearing the news.
Simmons said the Plan for Academic Enrichment — her overarching vision for the University’s institutional growth and development and the cornerstone of her presidency — will continue beyond this year. Though she wants to add a “follow-on” to keep the plan fresh, she said the new president will also influence the plan’s future. “No president would want to come to a place and be handed a plan they have no input into,” Simmons said.
Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 will start developing the follow-on, which the new president will then review and add to. The plan has “enhanced the capacity of Brown as a University to educate students and produce academic scholarship,” he said, and the University will harness this capacity “to increase the significance of Brown’s scholarship and our ability to help work on problems of the world” in future years.
Under the plan, Simmons launched the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, a fundraising initiative that raised more than $1.6 billion by its close in December 2010. The University also hired more than 100 new faculty members, expanded its graduate programs and established a School of Engineering.
Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice in 2003 to research the University’s historical involvement with the slave trade and recommend steps for acknowledging the intersections between slavery and the University’s early years. The committee released its report in 2006, garnering national media attention. Other universities have since initiated similar investigations of their own.
Stephen Robert ’62 P’91, who chaired the committee that selected Simmons as president, expressed sadness after the announcement. Simmons is “the best university president in America,” he said.
“She first of all raised Brown’s standards, forcing us to be much better than we were,” he said. “And she gave us permission to be self-critical instead of just being self-satisfied.”
Simmons said she will return to the University as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies after spending a year away from Brown to “take up projects that have been on hold far too long.” Though she has not decided how she will spend the year, she said she would like to go to France.
— With additional reporting by Tony Bakshi and Elizabeth Carr