Brown names first black woman to Ivy presidency

by Wendy Yu | 11/10/00 6:00am

As the country braces for the end of a presidential election that will go down in the history books, Brown University heralded the naming of its own history-making president amid unmitigated applause and acceptance yesterday.

Brown's 18th president, Ruth Simmons, who is currently the president of Smith College, will begin her duties as the first ever African-American president of an Ivy League institution in July of next year.

"This is a historic and a momentous occasion not only for Brown but also for the entire Ivy League and for higher education in America," Brown Chancellor Stephen Robert said in a press release.

"I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead this outstanding university in this exciting time in history," Simmons said. "It gives me enormous pride and joy to think that I will serve as president of an institution that not only has ideals I can share, but also earnestly seeks to live those ideals."

Meghan Rooney, executive editor of The Brown Daily Herald, told The Dartmouth she was looking forward to Simmons's arrival and its historic implications.

"I think it's high time there be a black in charge of an Ivy League school," Rooney said, adding that Brown was a really good place for that to happen.

"Brown traditionally tends to be progressive in terms of these views," she added.

According to Rooney, for the past 30 and especially five years, racial diversity has become a very important issue for the university, especially among students.

Rooney described the pressure for diversity to be a consideration in the presidential search to be "almost a mandate from students."

Smith sophomore Sarah Kanabay said Simmons was exceptionally popular at Smith, and would receive cheers from students as if she were a celebrity at convocation.

"Ruth is an extremely popular president among Smith students," she said. "I am really disappointed that she is leaving."

When students were seen streaking Simmons' house during a faculty meeting once, Simmons was amused and cheered them on, she said.

However, Kanabay said some at Smith feel slighted by Simmons' departure, and suspect Simmons was treating Smith as a stepping stone in her career.

"It sort of feels like she's [leaving just] to be president of an Ivy League school," she said.

The youngest of 12 children, Simmons was born to a family of Texan sharecroppers.

She earned her bachelor's degree summa cum laude at Dillard University in New Orleans and her master's and doctorate at Harvard University.

Simmons has worked as the director of Afro-American studies at Princeton University and provost at Spelman College in Atlanta.

Simmons succeeds E. Gordon Gee, who abruptly left Brown University amid controversy nine months ago after only two years at the university.

Brown learned of his departure through an announcement he made at Vanderbilt University that he would accept the position of chancellor.

"He wasn't right for Brown," Rooney said, describing him as having a conservative and religious image, and not much of an academic.

"We were all really shocked ... [and] surprise quickly turned to negativity," she said, depicting his departure as a "graceless exit."