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Ruth Simmons Named Senior Adviser to the President of Harvard on Engagement with HBCUs

Ruth J. Simmons, after presiding over three institutions of higher education, will serve as senior adviser to the president of Harvard on engagement with histoically Black colleges and universities.
Ruth J. Simmons, after presiding over three institutions of higher education, will serve as senior adviser to the president of Harvard on engagement with histoically Black colleges and universities. By Courtesy of Nicholas Hunt, Prairie View A&M University
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow will appoint outgoing Prairie View A&M University President Ruth J. Simmons as a senior adviser to the president of Harvard on engagement with historically Black colleges and universities, the school announced Monday morning.

Simmons will officially assume her role as senior advisor to the president on June 1, just one month before Bacow departs office. Bacow will announce the appointment — a part-time role — at an event with Simmons on Monday during his visit to Prairie View A&M University.

Simmons, who is also president emerita of Smith College and Brown University, announced in March 2022 that she would step down from her role as president of Prairie View A&M University. Simmons initially planned to remain in office until June 1, but she unexpectedly announced on Feb. 10 that she would resign at the end of the month.

Simmons’s sudden resignation from Prairie View stemmed from a dispute with university leadership over her limited presidential authority to appoint senior staffers and deans as outgoing president.

Bacow said in a press release that Harvard is “indebted” to Simmons for the work she has done to reckon with the complicated history of slavery in American higher education, referencing Simmons’s creation of Brown’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice in 2003. The committee published a groundbreaking report detailing the connections between Brown and the transatlantic slave trade.

“Her leadership in that moment created new a path toward understanding and reckoning, and she has been walking that path ever since, urging all of us in higher education to follow her so that we might do more good in the world,” he said.

In a press release, Simmons praised Bacow for his commitment to an “inclusive future,” calling the effort to establish relationships with HBCUs a “welcome and timely message.”

“I am proud to work alongside Harvard to shape a new vision for higher education, one which acknowledges the need for institutions with different histories and missions to share expertise and productively collaborate in the interests of a more equitable society,” she said.

Simmons’s work as senior adviser to the president will move forward with the larger effort overseen by Vice Provost of Special Projects Sara N. Bleich following the University’s publication of the landmark Legacy of Slavery report last year. The work Simmons will do with HBCUs falls under the report’s third recommendation, which calls on Harvard to develop lasting partnerships with Black colleges and universities.

Bleich said in an interview with The Crimson last week that she was “thrilled” by Simmons’s appointment.

“I think there’s probably no other leader in higher education who Harvard can learn more from when it comes to thinking about meaningful engagement with HBCUs than President Simmons,” she said.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at claire.yuan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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