Simmons travels the world as part of new global focus

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

After trips to Spain, the Republic of Korea and China over the course of the last year, President Ruth Simmons is currently overseas for the London kickoff of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, which took place Monday night. She will return to China later this semester and plans to visit more countries in the near future as part of an effort to increase the University’s international presence.

Simmons left for London on Sept. 24 and will be there for about six days. The kickoff event featured several international keynote speakers, and between 200 and 300 people were expected to attend, according to Marisa Quinn, assistant to the president.

The London event is the only international kickoff currently planned for the campaign.

Simmons traveled to China for about a week in June to represent interests there as a member of the board of directors for investment firm Goldman Sachs. Visiting Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an, “she started to lay the groundwork for a return trip, so she could then do some other things on behalf of the University – and that’s why she’s returning,” Quinn said.

Simmons will spend about four days in Beijing in late October, according to Quinn, where she plans to visit an as-yet undetermined Chinese university and attempt to form a council of alums, parents, faculty and other members of the Brown community in China.

Simmons will be accompanied by Clyde Briant, vice president for research, and Ronald Margolin, vice president for international advancement, who is currently traveling with her in London.

In October 2005, Simmons spent time in Madrid for the centennial celebration and re-opening of the International Institute in Spain. Invited and encouraged to attend by several members of the Hispanic studies faculty at Brown who have ties to the institute, Simmons spoke about the role of women in higher education and met up with students and members of the “Brown family” who were in Spain at the time, Quinn said.

In May, Simmons traveled to Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Korea, in honor of the university’s 120th anniversary. She was invited by a Brown alum who is a faculty member at Ewha to speak on the topics of education and culture in light of globalization. While in Seoul, Simmons delivered the sixth Kim Ok Gil Memorial Lecture at Ewha and met with Korea’s minister of education in addition to University alums in the area, according to Quinn.

It was not Simmons’ first visit to Korea; she traveled to Seoul in 2002 to receive an honorary degree from Ewha.

Simmons was also invited to travel to the University of Guadalajara in Mexico this fall for an event rumored to include writer Carlos Fuentes but was unable to fit the trip into her schedule. Quinn said the Mexico trip may be rescheduled for the fall of 2007.

“We tried to make it work for this year, but it just didn’t work out,” Quinn said.

Brenda Allen, associate provost and director of institutional diversity, will spend about 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa next month on behalf of Simmons, who was invited by Africana studies professor and department chair Anthony Bogues. Bogues invited Simmons to participate in a conference he is organizing about African diaspora studies at the University of Cape Town, where he is currently on sabbatical from the University. Brown and the University of the West Indies are co-sponsoring the conference, which Simmons is unable to attend because of conflicting travel plans.

According to Allen, the conference will be an “international discussion about the state of Africana studies, where it should be going and how we can act on new initiatives in that area of academia.”

Allen said she is looking forward to collaborating with institutions from around the world. “(We’re) thinking about some ways to partner with other institutions in having a broader set of intellectual participants in a discussion about the future of Africana and (diaspora) studies,” she said, “and the impact of what we’re studying in some of these key places in the world.”

Trips like Allen’s to South Africa – those unrelated to a specific fundraising initiative – are “not new” to the University, she said, “but we may be looking at them in a broader way … now that we’ve sharpened our focus on internationalization.” She added: “(Simmons’) focus is as much international as it’s been national.”

Simmons’ vision for internationalization

The flurry of recent and upcoming international travel for Simmons is part of a measured effort to increase the University’s international visibility – beginning with China – as it works to compete with other top research institutions.

“One of my concerns is that we don’t necessarily have the profile of a global university,” Simmons told The Herald earlier this month.

Recently, Simmons and her cabinet met with University administrators to discuss ways in which Brown can become more internationally prominent and, consequently, recruit the best students from around the world.

Cabinet members also heard presentations from representatives of international programs at Duke and Yale universities. Yale was the only American campus visited by Chinese President Hu Jintao when he came to the United States in April.

Simmons has said the University stands to benefit from strengthened ties to China, particularly given the country’s growing economic presence. Currently, the University has almost 150 students from China, most of them enrolled in the Graduate School.

“(Simmons) has responded to requests (made by faculty members for international appearances) – now the idea will be to be more deliberate about connecting the University and advancing the University’s agenda on those trips,” Quinn said.

She said she expects more requests for Simmons’ presence at international events in the future.

“Now that (internationalization) has become more of a focus, we hope so – our hope is that we will hear more from the international community,” Quinn said. “As work advances, different opportunities will unfold.”

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