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President Ruth Simmons outlined the University's recent achievements and challenges and highlighted the importance of financial aid to a standing-room-only crowd of parents and students Saturday afternoon. The "Hour with the President" — one of many events on College Hill for Family Weekend — consisted of a short speech followed by a question-and-answer session and drew an estimated 1,000 people to the Main Green despite the chilly weather.

In her speech, Simmons focused largely on making higher education accessible to people of all backgrounds.

"As a nation, we've got to keep focused on making opportunities possible for new families, for people from below the poverty line to get a first-class education," Simmons said. "Nothing is more important."

"It's central to Brown's mission to make that possible," she said, before going on to discuss the impact of financial aid — and the anonymous donors that make it possible — on her own academic career and the lives of Brown students.

Simmons then cited the recent appointment of famed African writer Chinua Achebe as an example of the quality of Brown's faculty and emphasized the University's commitment to being a "world-class teaching institution." She implored parents to encourage their children to forge relationships with professors.

"That is the single most important thing for your students' learning experience — the quality of faculty they have access to," Simmons said.

Simmons also addressed the University's finances in the wake of the economic crisis and Brown's staggering endowment losses.

"We are trying to make adjustments without having to sacrifice the quality of your children's education," Simmons said. "We're trying to identify ways in which we can be more efficient, and we're trying to be very sensible about expenditures. We're preserving the essential elements of your students' education but letting go of things that are, frankly, not central to those purposes."

After her speech, Simmons and other university administrators responded to questions from parents and students and discussed subjects as varied as Brown Dining Services workers' recent contract dispute and the comparative quality of Texas- versus Kansas-style barbecue.

Diane Fellman, whose daughter Lilly Mirviss '12 transferred to Brown this fall, called Simmons' speech "very inspirational" and praised the president's candidness and sense of humor. "She wasn't afraid to answer hard questions, and she's very funny," Fellman said.

Claudette Young Hinds, the mother of Chahney Hinds '12, said she was impressed by Simmons' discussion of the University's plans to withstand the economic crisis. "She has a plan that is dynamic enough to respond to this kind of thing," Hinds said. "It says that President Simmons is operating a well-oiled machine."

And Matt Handbury — who is the father of Elisa Handbury '10 and traveled to Providence all the way from Sydney, Australia — appreciated Simmons' advice.

"She's very personal and approachable and accessible," he said. "For example, her call for parents to encourage their children to establish rapport and contact with their teachers is not only wise, she made it seem achievable." 

Handbury continued: "Among the expected self-congratulatory hype about Brown, it was very personal. She is someone who's obviously very powerful and assured, but there was a human touch."


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