University News

Simmons’ approval rating down 12 percent

Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2011



President Ruth Simmons’ approval rating fell to 62.5 percent this semester, down from 74 percent last semester, according to last month’s Herald poll. Less than half of students had an opinion on the Corporation’s job performance.

Of the 62.5 percent students who approved of Simmons, 30.3 percent strongly approved and 32.2 somewhat approved. Last semester, 34.8 percent strongly approved of Simmons and 39.2 somewhat approved. This semester, the poll offered “Not familiar enough to answer” and “No opinion” as separate responses. Past polls offered a single response of “Don’t know / No answer.”

Two students cited Simmons’ service on the board of the Goldman Sachs Group as a possible reason for the slip in her approval ratings. Simmons announced in February 2010 that she would not seek reelection to the investment bank’s board.

Ronald Ehrenberg, professor of industrial labor relations and economics at Cornell, said the popularity of college presidents can fluctuate based on a multitude of factors. He said there was no single reason to expect a president’s approval rating to fall over time.

The drop in approval, instead of reflecting opposition to Simmons’ specific actions, may instead be a result of a less informed student population. This semester 25.0 percent of students said they were not familiar enough to make a judgment about Simmons, up from 20.1 percent who responded “Don’t know / No answer” last semester. This semester 8 percent responded “No opinion.”

Ben Winkler ‘11.5 said his opinion of Simmons was “not really based in much real fact,” but was “mostly in line with the student population’s hype, the idolization of Simmons as an icon.”

“I have no idea what she’s been doing, but I’d trust her with my life,” he said.

Students also tended to have fairly limited knowledge of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. The Corporation is responsible for choosing the president, approving the University budget and making high-level policy decisions. About 42.9 percent of student respondents this semester, including 55.9 percent of first-years, said they were not familiar enough with the Corporation to make a judgment. A further 15.9 percent responded that they had no opinion of the Corporation.

Thirty percent of respondents approved and 11.1 percent disapproved.

This represents a dramatic decline in student awareness of the body  from the most recent previous poll on student approval of the Corporation, which was conducted in spring 2009 and showed only 37 percent responding “Don’t know / No answer.”

Michael Becker ’13 said he strongly disapproves of many recent actions taken by the Corporation, which he said is operating with “a very strong profit motive.”

Becker, who said he was attracted to Brown because of its active students and professors and Corporation members who seemed to be interested in social justice, cited the Corporation’s efforts to make tenure more selective and the administration’s handling of negotiations with Brown Dining Services workers as two reasons why he believes that appropriate concern for the employees and the community “has not been reflected in the policies of either Simmons or the Corporation.”

“It’s a little unnerving — what is the Corporation?” asked Nam Pham ’13, adding that while he did not know much about its operations, he suspected that it “may not have Brown’s best interests in mind.”

“I don’t really know what the Corporation does other than that they make decisions,” said Hana Ward ’11. “I don’t know who they are, if they are here on campus a lot or where they are. They’re pretty anonymous.”

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