Commentary: Seasonal Disasters at Smith
Another Road Taken
Ruth Simmons will leave in June, at the end of her sixth year as president of Smith College, to assume the presidency of Brown University.
An early November letter from President Ruth Simmons and Board of Trustees Chair Shelly Lazarus announced Simmons' departure to Smith students, faculty and staff, as well as to alumnae and friends. The news was met with an outpouring of responses expressing both sadness that she was leaving and pride that Brown had turned to Smith for its new president.
The announcement generated a great deal of media attention, starting with the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper that broke the story on its Web site in advance of the official announcement. Requests for interviews poured in from print and electronic media. People magazine and CBS's "Sixty Minutes," "CBS Evening News," and Oxygen Media's "Exhale," for example, wanted to do profiles; reporters for newspapers ranging from the Daily Princetonian to the New Orleans Times Picayune, the Houston Chronicle, the Boston Globe and the Providence Journal clamored for interviews. The New York Times published two stories and an editorial about Simmons in the week following the announcement of her selection as president-elect of Brown.
Simmons was not the only one interviewed in the days following the announcement. Many Smith people were asked how they felt about her departure. In an article for the George Street Journal, Brown's faculty and staff publication, Ada Comstock Scholar Kimberly Marlowe described her first encounter with Simmons: "Of course you know she is very personable, very charming, but what really impressed me was her intense curiosity about student life."
Karl Donfried, Elizabeth Woodson 1922 Professor of Religion and Biblical Literature, responded to questions posed by the Mount Holyoke student newspaper, among them "What will her departure mean to the Smith community?" He replied, in part, "In the first place, I would hope that it will mean a deep sense of gratitude to Ruth Simmons for her exceptional service to Smith. Her strong, steady and patient leadership has raised the already strong quality of this institution immeasurably." In the Houston Chronicle, Smith student Vanessa Gates-Elston said Sim- mons "has pushed us out of our comfort zone," describing how the president challenged students to take academic risks, provided them with new opportunities on and off campus and instilled in them a passion for the college. In the same story, Peter Rose, Sophia Smith Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, said, "It's tough to come into a place like this and find your way. But Smith became her place."
In The Christian Science Monitor, Ohenewaa Larbi, a biochemistry major from Ghana, said, "She's influenced me in a lot of ways. It's very encouraging for me to see someone who's intelligent and humble at the same time."
As a sports economist, Andrew Zimbalist, Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith, is often quoted in the national media on such issues as collective bargaining and the economic impact of major league sports facilities. Yet his spoken tribute to Ruth Simmons at the monthly meeting of the Smith faculty in November was published only in the meeting's minutes: "Ruth, you have given us six years of inspired, strong and creative leadership. You have lifted us in spirit and substance to a level beyond that which most of us thought possible. You are a gem; you are irreplaceable; thank you so very much for everything."
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