University News

Community reflects on 10 years of leadership

By
News Editor
Friday, September 16, 2011

From students enjoying their first days on College Hill to administrators who spent years working alongside President Ruth Simmons, members of the Brown community expressed admiration, sadness and surprise following her announcement that she will step down at the end of this academic year.

Vartan Gregorian, president of the University from 1989 to 1997, said Simmons notified him of her decision Thursday morning. “I told her that she’s done an extraordinary job, and we’re all very grateful,” he said. He praised her success in expanding the faculty and improving financial aid.

Ralanda Nelson ’12, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, noted the overall improvements to the University during Simmons’ tenure. She said Simmons’ powerful personality helped attract students to Brown. “People at this University come because of her,” Nelson said. “She embodies things that they want to pursue in their life.”

“When I decided to apply here as a black female, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the only Ivy League university with a black female president,'” Nelson added.

Undergraduates praised the president’s dedication, remembering moments when she took the time to interact directly with the community. Several noted the challenges that lie ahead in the search for a replacement.

“Whoever comes after is going to have a big act to follow,” said Evelyn Ansel ‘11.5.

“I think she’s always been the central figure, so I don’t know what Brown would be without her,” said Jason Shum ’14. “She’s always been like the big mother, the grand-momma bear, and now she’s gone.”

“I want my hug before she leaves,” said Sam Kase ’15. Simmons promised to give a hug to each member of the incoming class both this year and last year.

Chancellor emeritus Stephen Robert ’62 P’91, who chaired the Corporation committee that selected Simmons as president, praised her abilities as a leader. “She created harmony within all the different Brown constituencies — faculty, Corporation, students, parents, alums. It’s a hard job because they all have their own demands, and she just did a wonderful job.”

Faculty members from a wide range of departments noted Simmons’ contributions to their area of the University.

Philip Gruppuso, associate dean for medical education, said the opening of the Alpert Medical School’s new building in August was “truly extraordinary,” especially given the financial crisis in 2008.

“I just always found her to be an extraordinarily positive influence over everything that I’ve had anything to do with at Brown,” he said.

Richard Fishman, professor of visual arts and director of the Creative Arts Council, said Simmons was instrumental in the creation of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, which opened in January. “She was supportive of the idea when it was just an idea,” he said.

Corey Walker, associate professor of Africana studies and chair of the department, which Simmons will join, said he was unaware Simmons would  step down as president or return as a professor of Africana studies and comparative literature. But her decision makes sense, he said, because Simmons has helped develop the Africana studies department. During her tenure, the department added a doctoral program and recruited renowned faculty, including acclaimed writer Chinua Achebe.

It will be a “hard task” to replace Simmons, who had an ambitious tenure as president, said Roberto Serrano, chair of the economics department. Within the last 10 years, many well-known economists have joined the department, he said.

Professor of Economics Ross Levine, who came to Brown seven years ago, said Simmons is “one of the most inspirational and effective leaders that I can imagine,” with a “unique power and leadership quality about her that I’ve seen in one or two other people in my life.”

Glenn Loury, professor of economics, said Simmons supported his research on race and inequality and provided him with the resources to conduct it.

“What I think is incredibly remarkable about President Simmons is her capacity to look into the future and see possibilities that other people might not have seen,” said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron. “It’s hard to know exactly what one is feeling, but she’s an amazing leader, and we’re really fortunate she’s been with us.”

 

­— With additional reporting by Lucy Feldman, Morgan Johnson, Sahil Luthra, Shefali Luthra, Kat Thornton, Caitlin Trujillo and Emma Wohl

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