In a Herald poll conducted last month, 81 percent of students responded that President Ruth Simmons has contributed to their Brown experience in a positive way. Only two percent of students said Simmons contributed in a negative way.
Behind these numbers is a genuine appreciation for what Simmons has achieved at Brown, not only as a president but as a person.
"She's kind of more than just our president in some ways," said Ben LeVeque '13. Many students echoed the sentiment that Simmons' influence reaches beyond the walls of her University Hall office. Her personality is what, for many students, sets her apart.
"Though I've never met her personally, there's something very maternal and loving about Ruth," said Jenny Gorelick '14. Madeleine Pasquariello '15 described seeing Simmons playing with little kids outside the Blue Room one day, an example of her close interactions with the community.
Caleb Williams '14 has heard "nothing but praise and positive comments" about Simmons, adding that she always seems to be connected to the community.
"I think in part, Ruth Simmons has been so successful because of her wonderful personality. She's a leader without question," said Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences. "She's bright, she's articulate. She really has internalized the values of Brown."
Blumstein, who served as interim president from February 2000 to July 2001, when Simmons officially took office, said Simmons has "reached high and brought us with her" as an academic leader, a personal leader and a fundraiser for the University. Among numerous accomplishments during her tenure, Simmons enacted a need-blind financial aid policy for domestic first-year applicants and saw through significant building and renovation projects.
"She's helped a lot with building the funds for financial aid and campaigning for Brown and representing Brown in the best light," said Sheryl Hado '13. The need-blind admission policy makes Brown "so much richer, so much better for the students who are here," Blumstein said.
Buildings such as the Metcalf Chemistry and Research Laboratory, the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center and the new fitness and aquatics center "make students want to be here," Blumstein said.
While not all of Simmons' decisions were met with complete support, her openness and candor with regard to the administration's agenda fostered a lot of respect, she said. Some people were concerned about the expansion of the graduate and research aspects of the University, maintaining that Brown should remain more of a college, focused primarily on undergraduates, Blumstein said. "It's a delicate balance, but I think that's what she's been trying to meet," she said.
To commemorate Simmons' accomplishments as president, hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered for a campus celebration yesterday on the Main Green.
The event - hosted by the Special Events Committee - included a few speeches in addition to dance, singing and spoken word performances. "Simmons has been a major supporter of SPEC for the past 11 years," said Katherine Haves '12, SPEC co-chair. "She has always been there when we need her."
When Simmons was first chosen as president, SPEC helped welcome her into the community, so yesterday's celebration was a "full-circle type of event for us," Haves said. Planning for the event began in January and involved collaboration with Catering, the Department of Facilities Management, outside vendors and the Staff Advisory Council.
The volume of people who contributed "speaks to how much the University as a whole appreciates President Simmons and what she's done," Haves said.
Students sporting brightly-colored Ruth Simmons T-shirts were mingling with friends and enjoying the free food when music signalled the start of the event. In seconds, students emerged from the middle of the audience and danced onto the stage set up in front of University Hall. The flash mob that followed included many different dance groups on campus and ended with the dancers forming a circle around Simmons, who was watching from the front row.
After a spoken poetry tribute and joint a cappella song, Ralanda Nelson '12, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, and Matteo Riondato GS, president of the Graduate Student Council, gave some closing remarks. Nelson thanked Simmons for "making our ideas and goals a priority" and encouraging students to "dream big and make the impossible a reality."
Because of the magnitude of Simmons' contributions to student life, Nelson said the students wanted Simmons to go out with a bang, at which point red and white streamers flew through the air, landing on the crowd.
Teary-eyed and with streamers around her neck, Simmons rose to the stage to offer her own thanks.
"I can't believe that I'm crying," she said. "I'm such a strong person," which prompted laughter from an also emotional audience. Simmons said she is leaving Brown with a full heart, not with sadness but with joy for the lasting memories. She also encouraged the community to welcome President-elect Christina Paxson with an open heart.
Following a standing ovation, Simmons greeted a flood of enthused students, posing for photos and giving a warm hug to anyone who approached. Even now, nearing the end of her last year as President, Simmons still embodies a celebrity-like status on campus, evidenced just by the number of people who rushed to shake her hand.
"I think it's kind of awesome and crazy that she is perceived as such a celebrity and that people do care so much about her," said Hunter Leeming '15. "I think it shows that her passion reflects on the students and really changes the environment here."
Blumstein said she attributes Simmons' celebrity-like status partly to the fact that "she doesn't flaunt it" and partly to a quiet confidence and good sense of humor.
"Why some people are stars and others are not, that's the je ne sais quoi of life," Blumstein said. "But she deserves it. No question. She deserves it."
Written questionnaires were administered to 1,530 undergraduates March 12-14 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.2 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence.
Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.