At the beginning of next month, outgoing Brown president Ruth Simmons will trade schools with Wilson School dean Christina Paxson — Paxson will succeed Simmons in Providence as Brown’s 19th president, and Simmons will join Princeton’s Board of Trustees. Simmons is a familiar face at Princeton: She joined the Princeton faculty in 1983 as a professor of Romance languages, and after a brief administrative stint at Spelman College, returned to Princeton to serve as a vice provost. As an administrator at Princeton, Simmons authored a “Report on Race Relations” on campus. She also served as president of Smith College in Massachusetts before being named president of Brown in 2001 — the first black president in Ivy League history. At Brown, she also investigated issues of race, establishing a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which noted that the school had benefited from slavery.
When Simmons announced in September that she would step down at the end of the academic year, she initially planned to continue to serve as a member of Brown’s faculty. But now she’ll also be trekking to Princeton as a University trustee. On Monday, the ‘Prince’ caught up with the new trustee and asked her which school will have her allegiance.
Q: What sort of issues are you hoping to take under your wing as a trustee?
A: I think that generally, as new trustees start, there’s an orientation, and we should have an opportunity to learn about the issues that are pending and about some of the opportunities the University faces. I certainly wouldn’t bring any issues independent of that to my service on the Board ... I’m looking forward to learning more about the Board and its planning and what sort of things they’re going to be focused on.
Q: What are you hoping to gain personally from your time on the Board?
A: Of course, I spent many years at Princeton, and I’m looking forward frankly to becoming familiar with some of the things that have happened since I left, just from the standpoint of circling back and understanding the development since I was there. It’ll take me some time to become familiar with what’s happening today at Princeton and to learn how I could be of help.
Q: You’re unique in that you’re a former university president serving on the Board. How do you think that will help you as a trustee?
A: One of the things that I felt was very important when I was president at Smith and when I was president at Brown was to have a colleague or two on each of those boards who had similar administrative experience to mine. I think that because I’ve had a lot of administrative experience, both at Princeton and elsewhere, probably some of the basic issues of governance and administration will be areas that I’ll be more familiar with than many trustees, and perhaps I can be helpful in those arenas.
Q: Are there any areas specifically that your time as Brown president have prepared you for?
A: I think the task of a president is very broad, and we deal with every area of university life as president. When you take on [the task] as a trustee, the effort should be to assist the university in whatever way we can ... I’ll be looking to offer my assistance and to be called upon in any assistance that President Tilghman and the other board members think is appropriate for me. I have to follow their guidance rather than to take initiative and offer my own areas of expertise.
Q: When did you find out that you had been named to the Board? Is this something you sought out?
A: I got a letter last week, following the most recent Board meeting. One doesn’t seek out such things. I was surprised and delighted to be asked to serve, but I would say surprised more than anything else.
Q: Have you talked with Dean Paxson, who will be replacing you at Brown, about how you are swapping schools?
A: I haven’t actually. I haven’t given too much thought to that, probably because I have a long association with Princeton; it didn’t seem anything to remark to her ... It’s a happenstance, and I haven’t given it too much thought.
Q: Alright, so now that you’re on the Princeton Board of Trustees, to where is your primary allegiance: to Brown or to Princeton?
A: [Laughter] That’s the first question I was asked at Brown — where will my allegiance be when there’s a game between Princeton and Brown. I’m still associated with Brown as a president emerita — so I’ll be pulling for Brown.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/06/18/31032/