Ruth Simmons

Ruth Simmons

On September 30, 2014, Ruth Simmons, the 18th president of Brown University and the first African-American president of an Ivy League university, talked about "The State of Conscience in University Life Today."

There have been many “firsts” in Ruth Simmons’ life, chief among them being the first African-American president of an Ivy League university. Hers was an extraordinary transformation, which began as the 12th child of sharecroppers, and it was one fueled solely by education. The scholar and academic leader has been dedicated to expanding access to higher education and extolling the value of a liberal arts education, two overarching goals that reflect the philosophy of the late, beloved Wash U teacher and administrator, Jim McLeod.

Apropos to Jim McLeod’s belief in the power of individual stories, Simmons’ is remarkable and inspiring. The 12th child of Texas sharecroppers, she embarked on an educational journey that led to a doctoral degree in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University and launched her long and distinguished career.

She has held a number of faculty and administrative appointments in some of the leading educational institutions in the country, including the University of Southern California, Princeton University, Spelman College and Smith College.

As president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012, Simmons became the first African American to hold the highest post at an Ivy League institution. Simmons established important initiatives such as an engineering program for the women’s college. She continues to teach comparative literature and Africana studies at Brown.

Because of Simmons’ leadership on major public policies affecting higher education, she has been a featured speaker at the White House, the World Economic Forum, the Brookings Institution, and the Clinton Global Initiative. She is the recipient of many honors and holds membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations.