Dr. Ruth Simmons, the former President of Smith College and Brown University, and the first Black Ivy League president, was named to interim President of Prairie View A&M University.

Ruth Simmons is the next president of Prairie View A&M University. (Courtesy photo)

Simmons will assume the position July 1, according to a statement from Prairie View A&M on June 12. She will replace George Wright, who held the position for 14-years.

Simmons, a graduate of Dillard University and Harvard University, began her career in administration as an associate dean of the University of Southern California. She has previously held positions as provost at Spelman College and vice provost at Princeton University.

“I was from a very poor family with 12 children, at a time when colleges were just desegregating,” Simmons said in a statement. “I know how important historically Black colleges and universities are for kids like I was.”

In 1995, Simmons was named president of Smith College, one of the largest historically women’s liberal arts colleges.

Brown University selected Simmons as President in 2001.

Brown University is named for the Brown family in gratitude for the endowment given to it by Nicolas Brown, Jr. While Nicolas was an abolitionist, the Brown family’s wealth was accumulated from exploitation of the Triangle Trade, the sale of Southern sugar, molasses and rum and African slaves.

Simmons, as Brown president, established the University Steering Committee in Slavery and Justice in 2003 to investigate the university and the Brown family. The study prompted the university to revise its official history and created a publicly available archive of the relevant historical documents. The university also made recommendations to “strengthen” its Department of Africana Studies and establish the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

Martin Pruyear’s “Slavery Memorial” was installed in 2014 in front of University Hall, Brown’s oldest building. It depicts an unearthed gigantic ball and chain with the chain severed.

Simmons retired from the presidency in 2012, but still co-chairs the external board of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

Anthony Bogues, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and professor of Africana Studies, described Simmons’ accomplishment as “a model of democratic and fierce discussion.”

“ said to the university that it had to confront its history,” Bogues told the AFRO. “In doing that, she really tried to activate a policy in which the university would be a model for what hard, difficult conversations could take place.”

Prairie View A&M, an HBCU and member-college in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, was established in 1876 by former slaves and Texas State Senators Matthew Gaines and William H. Holland as what was then a “separate but equal” part of what is now the Texas A&M University System.

“We are fortunate to have such a high-caliber scholar and administrator who can step in without missing a beat,” said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp in a statement. “Dr. Simmons has been an important figure on the national stage for decades.”