Wednesday, 26 February 2014


                      BLACK              SOCIAL             HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Born on July 3, 1945, in Grapeland, TX; daughter of Isaac (a farmer and factory worker) and Fannie (a homemaker) Stubblefield; married Norbert Simmons (a lawyer), 1968 (divorced 1989); children: Khari, Maya  
Education:Dillard University, BA, 1967; Harvard University, MA, 1970, PhD, 1973. Attended George Washington University, 1968-69.
Memberships:Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, board of trustees; Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, director; Pfizer, board of directors; Texas Instruments, Inc., board of directors; Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., board of directors
Radcliffe College, admissions officer, 1970-72; University of New Orleans, assistant professor of French, 1973-77; assistant dean in college of liberal arts, 1975-76; California State University at Northridge, administrative coordinator for National Endowment for the Humanities studies project, 1978-79, acting director of international programs and visiting associate professor of Pan-African studies, 1978-79; University of Southern California at Los Angeles, assistant dean, 1979-82, associate dean of the graduate school, 1982-83; Princeton University, director of Butler College, 1983-85, acting director of Afro-American studies program and assistant dean 1986-87, associate dean, 1987-90; Spelman College, provost, 1990-92; Princeton University, vice-provost, 1992; Smith College, president, 1995-00; Brown University, president, 2001-.
Life's Work
Ruth Simmons has made an illustrious career of serving students in higher education for more than two decades. Rising through the administrative ranks of various institutions of higher learning, Simmons made history in 1995 when she became the first African American to be inaugurated president of Smith College, an elite all-women college in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 2001, making history once again, she became the president of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, thus becoming the first black woman to reside over an Ivy League institution. Simmons's many talents are acclaimed by her peers. She is known for her intellect, empathy, and ability to achieve her goals. In the words of Princeton University president, Harold T. Shapiro, quoted in theJournal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE), "Ruth Simmons represents quality, Ruth Simmons represents integrity, and Ruth Simmons has a vision of how higher education can serve the society that supports it."
The great-greatgranddaughterof slaves, Simmons was the youngest of 12 children born to sharecroppers Isaac and Fannie Stubblefield in Grapeland, Texas. Sharecropping was on thewane, and when Ruth was seven years old the family moved to the fifth ward of Houston, a poverty-stricken neighborhood. There Isaac Stubblefield became a factory worker and later the minister of the Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, while Fannie Stubblefield scrubbed floors in the homes of well-to-do white families. Simmons admitted that while the family was poor, the poverty made her recognize those things of true value in life, such as love and intellect. She also learned to negotiate, as her parents allowed her and her siblings to end their own disputes with a minimum of interference.
Influenced by Strong, Intelligent Women
Simmons is quick to acknowledge the positive examples in her life. Foremost among them is her mother, who no matter what she did--even scrubbing floors--applied a conscientiousness and pride to her work. "The conditioning I got when I was a child was to not do anythingunlessyou tried to do it at the best possible level," Simmons remembered to Lauren Picker ofParade Magazine. Her mother taught the children to facebigotrywith courage and to face daily challenges with grace and dignity. Her mother also counseled Simmons to fit into the role white society had cast for blacks, something she chose not to do. Instead she was determined to excel despite the Jim Crow policies that segregated African Americans, relegating them to low-level positions.
Obtaining an education was not something that a child from Simmon's background took for granted. On the contrary, in Grapeland, where Simmons was born, the children of sharecroppers often missed school because they were needed to labor in the fields at harvest time. It was not until the Simmons family moved to Houston that Simmons experienced a typical public school environment. Still, even though she attended a public school,segregationwas the norm and a black child could not even think of attending college. Even though no one in the Stubblefield family had attended college, Simmons decided early to break themold.
Simmons fondly remembered her teachers, especially Ida May Henderson, who excited the six year old with the process of learning. Later, at Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston, Simmons came to the attention of drama teacher Vernell Lillie, who recognized her talent and drive and stepped into the void left by the death of her mother when Simmons was 15 years old. Lillie convinced Simmons and the scholarship committee atDillard Universityin New Orleans that Simmons was college material. The drama teacher believed that her pupil would have a better chance to be cast in leading roles at the largely black institution than elsewhere.
Excelled Academically
When Simmons received a scholarship to study drama at Dillard, one of her teachers surprised her by giving her clothes from her ownclosetto make up a collegewardrobe. Simmons's brothers and sisters, proud that a family member could gain a college education, sent her money when they could. Simmons told Picker, "I had no way of repaying them--the only thing I could do was to show them that their efforts were well-placed." Simmons eventually changed her major from drama to French and was active on the college newspaper, where she cried out against injustices of all kinds.
Recalling her years at Dillard, Simmons told John Pope of theTimes-Picayune: "I came to believe that I had something to offer. Because Dillard was a small college with very close nurturing of students, I worked with dynamic teachers whoinstilledin me the belief that I had a mind that was interesting and strong andagileand capable of doing a lot of different things." While Simmons was still at Dillard, a year-long exchange program gave her the opportunity to study at Wellesley, a prestigious all-women college in the Northeast. The experience further cemented Simmons's belief in her abilities when she compared herself favorably to the students from privileged backgrounds.
"What happened for me in the classroom at Wellesley probably shaped my life," Simmons told Caroline V. Clarke inBlack Enterprise. "It was 1966, and while watching the civil rights movementunfoldon TV, I came to recognize that my mind was just the same as the students in the classroom with me. I could do everything that these very wealthy, very well prepared white women could do. I had sort of suspected that there wasn't very much to all thishypethat blacks were inferior to whites. But now I knew the truth, and an electric bolt went through me." Simmons learned that women could pursue careers in many fields and that they could assume leadership positions. She also became convinced of the value of all-women schools.
After graduatingsumma cum laudefrom Dillard in 1967 Simmons spent a year studying French at the university in Lyons, France, on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1968 she married Norbert Simmons, a Tulane University law student whom she had met during her days at Dillard. After a year of teaching and studying at George Washington University, Simmons earned masters and doctorate degrees in romance languages at Harvard University, while her husband attended law school at Boston University. Simmons had enrolled in a graduate program at a time when few African-American men let alone women attained advanced degrees. She fully realized that she might never get a job in her field; yet she refused to listen to those her tried todeterher.
For the next decade Ruth Simmons' career decisions hinged on those of her husband. When her husband's work took the couple to New Orleans, Simmons hired on as an assistant professor of French at the University of New Orleans, where she later became the assistant dean of the college of liberal arts. Other administrative positions followed. In the late 1970s the Simmons and their two children made their home in Southern California, where Ruth administered a grant for the National Endowment for the Humanities, acted as visiting associate professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Northridge, and held positions as assistant and associate dean at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles.
"As a younger woman, my priority was my family, and I did what I did solely in the interest of my family," Simmons told Phillip. "I always knew, however, that my children needed me when they were young, and there would be a time when they would grow up. I kept working hard assuming that I would just gain more skills and be a better person." Simmons used well the flexibility afforded by a career in higher education, and in her drive to excel, she often rose at four in the morning to write or study. An accomplished scholar, Simmons has written studies on works of nineteenth- and twentieth-century francophone literature by David Diop and Aime Cesaire, as well as on education in Haiti.
Independently Pursued Career
In 1983 the Simmons separated--formally divorcing six years later--and Ruth found herself managing a job, household, and two teenage children. While she feltpanickyat first, she soon realized that she was free to make her own career decisions. She decided to move east in 1983, after accepting the directorship of Princeton University's Butler College, which had been admitting women only since 1970.
While at Princeton, Simmons revitalized the Afro-American studies program, firing all theadjunctprofessors and bringing in full-time faculty of renown. She was instrumental in recruiting Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison and philosopher Cornel West. Simmons was promoted to assistant dean of faculty at Princeton in 1986 and served as associate dean of faculty from 1987 to 1990, all the time learning to master the rigors of university administration under the influence of such leaders as Neil L. Rudenstine and Harold T. Shapiro, who went on to the presidencies of other Ivy League institutions.
During a two-year stint asprovostofSpelman College, a historically black women's institution in Atlanta, Georgia, Simmons revamped the college's faculty review process. Upon her return to Princeton as vice provost, Simmons was deputy to the provost and executive secretary of the Priorities Committee, the university's budget committee. In addition to budgeting, she was involved in academic and facilities planning, and policy development. In the wake of several racist incidents on campus, in 1993 the university administration asked Simmons to research the problem of racism at Princeton.
Although she was at firstoffendedthat she should be asked to do such research, maintaining that it was more appropriately the realm of asociologist, Simmons knew that the problem must be addressed. With assurances that her recommendations would be acted on, Simmons spent several months interviewing staff and students. Her conclusions, published in what became commonly known as the Simmons Report, led to the creation of an ombudsman's office to handle complaints, the refocusing of theaffirmative actionoffice, and the writing of a diversity statement by the university. This plan became a model for campuses nationwide and made Simmons the object of headhunters.
Chosen to Lead Smith College
Simmons was the subject of a number of searches for college presidents, but she took few of them seriously, believing that she was largely included to place a minority on the list of candidates. She even had a computerized form rejection to such offers. In 1995, when the search committee for Smith College approached Simmons, it had to prove itssincerity, and she had to prove that she was the right person to lead an all-women's college into the twenty-first century. A college president's role, in addition to being a scholarly role model, includes faculty development, budgeting, curriculum development, and student affairs and enrollment. The views of Smith College's search committee and Simmons coincided well. She was the committee's unanimous choice from a list of 350 candidates.
Reactions to Simmons's selection were celebratory. The president-elect received calls and letters ofcongratulationsfrom all over the country. Neil L. Rudenstine, president of Harvard University, described Simmons in aJBHEarticle as "a person of exceptional insight and humanity." "She understands institutions, and how to bring people together. She cares passionately about keeping the doors of higher education open to students from all backgrounds and from across the entire economic spectrum," he added. "She knows talent when she sees it, and she has an uncommon capacity for bringing out the best in everyone." "She's still a bit of a miracle as far as I'm concerned," During her years at Smith, Simmons maintained her pioneering approach to life. She established the first engineering womens' college and startedMeridians, a journal that focused on minority women. Nobel prize winning author Toni Morrison said of Simmons in aNew York Timesinterview, "She has an unusual combination of real politics and integrity, and this very keen sense of morals which does not interfere with hergenerosityand her wide spiritedness. She's extremely creative in terms of solving other people's problems. And she's a lot of fun."
Although Simmons wished that the country were in a stage where the inauguration of an African-American woman would not be a major media event, she is realistic. "My appointment destroys stereotypes in powerful ways," she told Phillip. University of Michigan president, James J. Duderstadt, confidently predicted toJBHE: "Smith College enjoys a long and proud history. I believe the best is yet to come for Smith under Ruth Simmons's presidency. She already has established herself nationally as a perceptive scholar, anadroitadministrator, and a courageous leader who welcomes challenges."
Became President of Brown University
In addition to her educational endeavors, Simmons sits on the boards of several major corporation such as Met Life, Pfizer, and Texas instruments, Inc. The prominent global investment bank, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. invited Simmons several times before she accepted to sit on the board. Realizing that both she and Goldman Sachs shared the idea that top companies needed to be appealing to female candidates, Simmons accepted the invitation in 2000. As Simmons explained toDirectors and Boards, "If you had gone out in the 1950s and sought women with either economics or marketing backgrounds, you wouldn't have found them. Today, however, a much greater proportion of qualified applicants are women." Simmons also realizes that, with her input, she may help to set new and progressive standards for female workers. For example, Simmons believes in providing greater job flexibility for women including job-sharing, corporate sponsored child care, and time off for bearing and rearing children.
In 2001 Simmons became the 18th president of Brown University--the first black woman to preside over an Ivy League college. Brown Chancellor Stephen Robert toldBlack Enterprise, "Ruth Simmons is a gifted academic leader with impressive accomplishments in areas of particular importance to Brown: institutional diversity, collaborative research and learning initiatives, faculty support and minority faculty recruitment, undergraduate scholarships, and a deep appreciation for fundamental personal values. We have selected an extraordinary leader, a person of character, of integrity, and of depth."
Simmons possesses a deep well of conviction andunflaggingenergy, which are needed in her leadership role. "One of the things that has kept me going throughout the years has been myunyieldinginterest in the future of young people in this country," Simmons explained to Phillip. "I wanted to make a difference by working with students. I wanted to make a difference because when I was a child without means, people did that for me." To Susannah Fox ofU.S. 1she stated sagely, "It is the care that we give to people that makes them transform their lives and do things that are quite extraordinary." Simmons is the living proof of her words. In her essay, "My Mother's Daughter: Lessons I Learned in Civility and Authenticity," published in theTexas Journal of Ideas, History and Culture, Simmons explained, "I was intent on doing something productive and on being everything my parents taught me to be. Their values were clear: do good work; don't ever get too big for yourbreeches: always be an authentic person; don't worry too much about being famous and rich because that doesn't amount to too much."
Selected:Fulbright fellowship, 1967-68; Danforth fellowship, DAAD fellowship; Association of Black Princeton Alumni, distinguished service award, 1989; Dillard University, distinguished service award, 1992.

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