Regarded by peers as among the most respected university president of this generation, Ruth J. Simmons has spent 50 years in higher education and served as president of Brown University, Smith College and Prairie View A&M University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). She currently serves as a President’s Distinguished Fellow at Rice University and Adviser to the President of Harvard on its HBCU initiative.
A French professor before entering university administration, Simmons held an appointment as a Professor of Africana Studies at Brown. After completing her Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures at Harvard, she served in various faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College before becoming president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of important academic initiatives, including an engineering program, the first at an American women’s college.
Simmons is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, the 2001 President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2004 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard University.
Simmons is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as a number of non-profit boards. Awarded numerous honorary degrees, she received the Brown Faculty’s highest honor: the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal in 2011. In 2012, she was named a ‘chevalier’ of the French Legion of Honour.