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Ruth Simmons to serve as president’s distinguished fellow

Brandon Chen / Thresher

By Bonnie Zhao     2/28/23 11:27pm

Ruth J. Simmons, former president of Prairie View A&M University and president emerita of both Brown University and Smith College, will join Rice University as a president’s distinguished fellow beginning April 1, 2023.

President Reggie DesRoches said that Simmons will work with a variety of programs across campus and advise the president’s office on various matters, in addition to collaborating with faculty and staff on various initiatives.

“Ruth is one of the most highly regarded higher education leaders of our generation,” DesRoches wrote to the Thresher in an email. “Ruth has a long history with Rice, as a former trustee and an advisor on various initiatives at Rice … Her role will not be confined within a department or unit on campus, so I expect her impact to be across various areas on campus.” 

Simmons also served on Rice’s board from 2014 to 2018 and was the keynote speaker for DesRoches’ inauguration last year. According to Simmons, it was her extensive history and connection with Rice that motivated her to accept the role.

“My association with Rice as a trustee, as well as my involvement with a number of other efforts at the University, proved to be among the most satisfying experiences following my return to my hometown after my Brown presidency,” Simmons, a Houston native, said. “I am familiar with the quality of Rice leadership and the international standing of the university. I greatly admire President DesRoches and look forward to the influence he will have locally and nationally. Why would one not wish to be involved with the University during this period of time?”

Simmons said she wishes to be of assistance to Rice in any way that the faculty and administration identify as important, with a special focus on increasing diversity and inclusion.

“I want to continue to speak and write on subjects that relate to diversity and inclusion in higher education,” Simmons said. “As a former director of Afro-American Studies at Princeton and past chair of the Afro-American Studies Visiting Committee at Harvard, I will be pleased to assist [Rice’s Center for African and African American Studies] in any way they deem useful.”

During her time at Rice, Simmons said she will also be advising Harvard University on developing a partnership with HBCUs and continue her role as a member of the White House Commission on HBCUs.

“Whatever knowledge and experience I have gained over my decades of leadership in high education is available to [Rice] university,” Simmons said. “I look forward to opportunities to make use of that experience for the benefit of Rice.”

DesRoches, who has referred to Simmons as one of his mentors in the past, said that Simmons is down to earth and student centric despite being one of the most well respected leaders in higher education.

“I first met Ruth while she was serving as a Rice Trustee in 2017. I have kept in close contact with her since that time and frequently seek her guidance on a range of areas related to higher education leadership … It is great to have her as a Fellow at Rice,” DesRoches said.

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