Ruth J. Simmons, the 18th president of Brown University and an ardent advocate for the role of higher education in national and global affairs, will deliver the 162nd College commencement address at the University of Rochester on Sunday, May 20.
"Ruth Simmons is a gifted leader who has expanded the reach and excellence of Brown University during her 11 years as president," said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester. "Her accomplishments extend far beyond the realm of university governance. She is a scholar, a champion for education, and a visionary who has positioned diversity at the forefront of university life."
She will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters at the commencement ceremony.
During her tenure at Brown University, Simmons has developed initiatives to grow and strengthen the faculty; increase financial support and resources for undergraduate, graduate, and medical students; and improve facilities, including a new home for the Warren Alpert Medical School. She has also served as professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of Africana Studies at Brown.
"An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters is fitting recognition of President Simmons' distinguished contributions to higher education," said Richard Feldman, dean of the College. "She embodies an institution that engages the humanities and sciences for the challenges best met by those who are intellectually prepared."
Simmons, who is a native of Texas, earned her undergraduate degree from Dillard University in 1967. She received her doctorate in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1973. A scholar of comparative literature, she has written on the works of David Diop and Aime Cesaire.
From 1995 to 2001, Simmons served as president of Smith College, the largest women's college in the United States. At Smith, she launched a number of strategic plans to strengthen the college's academic programs and inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women's college. Simmons also held several positions at Princeton University during periods in the 1980s and 1990s, including as vice provost. She was provost of Spelman College from 1990 to 1992.
She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently, she is an officer and past president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, an honorary fellow at Selwyn College at Cambridge University, and she serves on a number of boards, including the Howard University Board of Trustees and the board of directors of Texas Instruments. She recently was appointed by President Barack Obama as a member of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.
Active in a wide range of educational, charitable, and civic endeavors, Simmons holds honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities. She has been honored with a number of prizes and fellowships, including the German DAAD and a Fulbright Fellowship to France. In 1997, she was awarded the Centennial Medal from Harvard University, in 1999 the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service from Columbia University, and in 2001 the President's Award from the United Negro College Fund. The American Council on Education presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the association's 94th annual meeting this year.