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A Conversation With Elizabeth Alexander

A conversation with Elizabeth Alexander And Ruth J. Simmons at Prairie View A&M University on November 7, 2022. | Source: Nicholas Hunt/Office of Marketing and Communications/Prairie View A&M / Getty

Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, which is located 50 miles northwest of Houston and one of the nation’s largest historically Black colleges and universities, will step down at the end of February, four months earlier than her expected resignation date.

Simmons had previously tendered her resignation that was dated June 1.

The cause of Simmons’ resignation comes from a disagreement with Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp regarding hiring during the remaining months of Simmons’ tenure as president. In a letter spread across campus on Friday, Simmons said she was recently informed that “she could only continue as president with limited presidential authority.”

“My immediate response was that I could not and would not agree to being president in name only,” she stated. “No enduring good can arise from subservience to low standards and expectations.”

In a statement, Sharp said outgoing presidents in the Texas A&M system couldn’t hire senior staff or deans on an interim basis.

“I am sorry she chose this path, but I am forever grateful for her service at Prairie View A&M University and look forward to even greater things in the future,” Sharp said.

Simmons became the university President in 2017, and during her tenure, she increased donations by 40%, and MacKenzie Scott gifted the university $50 million in 2020. A Houston native, Simmons has a decorated career in education, previously working at Smith College in Massachusetts and Brown University, where she became the first Black woman to head an Ivy League school.

“I will support the efforts of faculty, staff and students who seek the best for themselves and their university,” Simmons said. “We must not be held hostage to how others choose to see us or treat us, but, instead, continue to chart our own path demonstrating the pride, commitment and integrity that defines us.”

Incoming president Tomikia LeGrande is set to assume the position on June 1. She is currently the vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Simmons’ personal journey, from the child of a sharecropper and maid to the heights of academia, is inspirational.

The highly regarded educator was previously in national headlines after testifying in 2018 on behalf of Harvard University in a trial over admissions policies that could impact college affirmative action programs across the nation. She told the court that the various criteria schools use to make admission decisions, including legacy and athletic achievement, “all play a legitimate role in the admission process.”

Simmons also testified about the value of diversity to schools and society, pointing out that Harvard achieves integration, in part, through its campus housing. She pointed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sharing a room with Haitian-American Olympic triple jumper Samyr Laine.


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Resigning Earlier Than Expected, Prairie View A&M’s Ruth Simmons Refuses To Be ‘President In Name Only’  was originally published on