Brown University Inaugurates New President, Ruth Simmons
Brown University’s new president has risen to the pinnacle of academia from humble beginnings, inspired along the way by her teachers.
So it was no surprise when Dr. Ruth J. Simmons encouraged those at her inauguration last month to value the excellence of teaching and learning, even encouraging students to pursue a teaching career.
“Teaching, wherever it occurs, is the lifeline of the university, the nation and the world,” said Simmons, the university’s 18th president and the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution.
Simmons, 56, is the youngest of 12 children from a poor family of sharecroppers in segregated Texas. She was first introduced to books by her kindergarten teacher. A high school teacher gave Simmons clothing to take to Dillard University in New Orleans, where she had earned a scholarship.
Simmons worked her way up through teaching and administration at institutions across the country. In 1995, she became the president of Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and in November 2000 was named the first female president of Brown.
“I suppose I am in awe,” Simmons said in a recent interview. “When I think about what the founding fathers had in mind when they created this place, and then I think about who I am and where I came from, it’s a bit jarring.”
In her inaugural address, Simmons spoke passionately to more than 5,000 people, emphasizing the importance of teaching.
“Universities are duty bound to honor the best students to become teachers,” she said.
Simmons was introduced by Brown Chancellor Stephen Robert as the “exemplification of how education can change a life.”
Her appointment has been almost universally applauded by students, says Rodrick Echols, a junior from Memphis, Tenn., and president of the student council.
“At Brown we expect our president to be a moral compass for the campus,” he says. “She’s done that profoundly. Not only has she been vocal, she’s been someone that students can point to as a symbol of what Brown represents.”
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