President Simmons announces plans to step down at end of academic year

September 15, 2011  |  Media Contact: Marisa Quinn |  401-863-2453
Ruth J. Simmons - Eighteenth President of Brown University
Professor of Comparative Literature
Professor of Africana Studies
Ruth J. Simmons Eighteenth President of Brown University
Professor of Comparative Literature
Professor of Africana Studies
Ruth J. Simmons, 18th president of Brown University, will conclude her term as president at the end of the current academic year. Simmons, in her 11th year as Brown’s president, will continue as professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In messages sent today to the Brown Corporation, faculty, students, staff, and alumni, Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons announced that she will conclude her presidency at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. Simmons, who took up her duties as Brown’s 18th president in July 2001, is in her 11th year.

“I write to you in all humility to tell you of my plans to step down from the Brown presidency at the end of the current academic year and to thank you in advance for what will have been eleven deeply satisfying years at the helm of this wonderful institution,” Simmons wrote. “... I recently decided that this is the ideal time both for Brown and for me personally to begin the process of transitioning to new leadership.”

In her years at Brown, Simmons has reinvigorated the University with a 20-percent increase in the faculty, vastly improved resources for student financial aid, new academic initiatives, improved facilities and support for research, broader and deeper international academic relationships, and extensive redevelopment of the University’s historic College Hill campus. She also led the University through some of the most difficult economic times since the 1930s, following through on important construction projects — a new home for the Alpert Medical School, the Granoff Center for Creative Arts, the fitness and aquatic center, the Robert Campus Center and others — in spite of financial and economic pressures.

“Ruth’s leadership at Brown has been monumental. From the moment of her arrival in Providence, Ruth has inspired our community to raise our sights while providing the wisdom, direction, and leadership to achieve our highest aspirations,” said Chancellor Thomas J. Tisch. “She has paid careful attention to every critical facet of the University, from renewing our commitment to shared governance, to reaffirming our essential role in tackling even the thorniest issues through respectful and informed civil discourse.”

At Commencement ceremonies in 2011, the Brown University faculty presented Simmons with its Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal, the faculty’s highest honor and fullest measure of its esteem.

In her message to the community, Simmons said she would retire as Brown’s president on June 30, 2012, but will continue to be of service to the Corporation and the new president. After a leave, during which she will take up projects she has put on hold during her presidency, she will continue at Brown as professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.

As prescribed in the University’s Charter of 1764, the Brown Corporation is responsible for selecting the University’s president.

“Given the strengths of Brown, our robust governance, and engaged community, we are confident that we will find an inspiring leader to succeed Ruth and to build upon the many significant accomplishments of the last decade,” Tisch said. “We anticipate a thoughtful, measured, and inclusive search process and will be outlining the steps we will take in that regard in the coming weeks.”

Highlights of the Simmons presidency

Vision and planning

Early in her presidency, Simmons articulated a vision for Brown that would revitalize its core activities of teaching and research: at least 100 new faculty positions, a 20-percent increase; a larger and more competitive graduate school; expanded course offerings, including seminars for first-year students; improved financial aid; need-blind admission; increased research capacity with new laboratories and enhanced research support.

Simmons presented her proposals to the Brown Corporation in February 2002, her second Corporation meeting, and received unanimous support. The subsequent Plan for Academic Enrichment was approved by the Corporation in February 2004 and continues to guide the University’s growth and strategic planning.

“President Simmons’ plan was comprehensive and bold. Her vision challenged Brown to strive to reach new heights and encouraged constructive self-criticism throughout the University community,” said Stephen Robert, who was Brown’s chancellor when the plan was developed and approved. “All this, with superb execution, has elevated Brown beyond our most optimistic dreams.”

Academic enrichment

Advancing the goals of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, the University has been able to:

  • increase the size of its faculty by 20 percent (from 573 in the fall of 2001 to 687 in the fall of 2011), attracting both outstanding junior faculty and senior faculty of international renown throughout all disciplines;
  • expand its programs of direct academic exchange with international universities, notably in India and China, and organize those international efforts in a new Office of International Affairs;
  • develop new collaborative relationships and joint programs with local and regional partners, including Trinity Repertory Company, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole, and the Draper Laboratory;
  • assume greater leadership in biology, medicine and public health through faculty expansion, curricular enhancements, improved financial support for medical students, stronger partnerships with affiliated teaching hospitals, and a new medical education facility for the Alpert Medical School. The Alpert Medical School now ranks 29th in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of U.S. medical schools;
  • invest in expanded graduate study, adding degree programs, improving stipends, and increasing applications;
  • establish fully funded need-blind admission and revise its financial aid policies so that students from families earning less than $100,000 will not have loans as part of their financial aid package. Sixteen percent of undergraduates who entered Brown this fall are the first generation of their families to attend college. Forty-three percent of Brown undergraduates receive need-based grants;
  • increase cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity throughout the University community, including the appointment of an associate provost as the University’s first diversity officer;
  • work in concert with the city and state so that the University’s development efforts in the Jewelry District can help revitalize an important and historical area of Providence. (Under a June 2003 agreement, Brown and other universities agreed to make annual contributions to sustain the city’s economic health);
  • establish new centers and institutes, including the Cogut Center for Humanities, the Brown Institute for Brain Science, the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, and others;
  • reestablish the Division of Engineering as the Brown School of Engineering;
  • create a new Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences in newly renovated space at Metcalf Laboratory.

Boldly Brown: The Campaign for Academic Enrichment

To support the goals of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, Brown undertook a $1.4-billion comprehensive campaign — more than three times larger than its previous capital campaign — and met its original goal 18 months early, in May 2009. Included in the campaign’s achievements were the University’s first $100-million gifts: $125 million from alumnus Sidney Frank, $100 million of which was devoted to undergraduate financial aid, and $100 million from the Warren Alpert Foundation, which renamed the University’s medical school and secured its new home in the Jewelry District of Providence. The campaign continued until its original endpoint of Dec. 31, 2010, raising a total of $1.61 billion.

Confronting difficult issues

In the spring of 2003, Simmons established the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice and charged it with developing a full account of the University’s relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. In addition to documenting an element of its history that had received scant mention, Simmons sought to demonstrate how an institution dedicated to the development and transmission of knowledge could take on even the most difficult topics through research, presentations, and open, respectful exchanges involving the entire community.

The committee’s report, Slavery and Justice, delivered in October 2006, set a standard for conducting difficult discussions, a standard that has informed efforts at Brown and other institutions. It also led to a significant response by the University that included establishing an endowment to  support public education for the students of Providence, new master’s degree programs and tuition-free fellowships in urban education and urban education policy, proposals for a memorial, and significant investments in financial aid and recruitment of underrepresented students, including students who are the first in their family to attend college.

The historic College Hill campus

In the fall of 2001, the University engaged the architectural firm R.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband to develop a planning framework so that the physical campus could be developed to support the growth envisioned in the Plan for Academic Enrichment. After 15 months of analysis and consultation, the University had a plan that would allow development of as much as 1 million square feet of additional space without compromising the unique qualities of the historical Brown campus. A combination of renovation and new construction produced:

Moving beyond College Hill

The consulting architect concluded that Brown’s plans would require more space than the historic campus could offer. In February 2005, the Brown Corporation endorsed recommendations that the University secure options for campus expansion beyond College Hill. It was an opportunity for Brown to work more closely with the city and state toward the revitalization of a significant part of the capital city.

The University had already taken its first step. In May 2003, Brown announced the purchase of the Doran-Speidel Building, a former watchband factory in the Jewelry District. In less than a year, the University reconfigured the structure’s 105,000 gross square feet for research purposes and rededicated the facility as the Laboratories for Molecular Medicine. As many as 150 researchers, including faculty, laboratory staff and student assistants, now work in the building.

In August 2005, Brown purchased the 11-story former Old Stone Square at 121 South Main St. That building now houses the Program in Public Health and the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics.

In October 2006, Brown announced its purchase of seven buildings in the Jewelry District. One of those properties — 222 Richmond St. — became a new home for the Alpert Medical School, opened on August 15, 2011, to admit the Medical Class of 2015.

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