Dr. Ruth Simmons is changing her plan. She previously announced that she would retire as president of Prairie View A&M University, but now she is staying on as a professor.
She will also help with fundraising and research collaborations.
When university presidents resign, many times they become faculty members. In her case, Dr. Simmons will also launch a new higher education leadership initiative to ensure more individuals of color hold the top academic positions.
"I think this is the right answer for her to spend time doing what she enjoys while still being a leader in developing the next generation of leaders," said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp.
Donations to the school increased by 40% while she was president, according to a letter she penned on March 12 announcing her resignation. One major gift arrived in 2020, when billionaire MacKenzie Scott donated $50 million to Prairie View.
Simmons has been Prairie View's president since 2017, and she says that running a university is complicated. She was ready to move on from those responsibilities,
"To be honest, I wanted to get away from that," Dr. Simmons said.
But while Simmons had always planned to remain involved with the university, Sharp wanted to make it official with a formal agreement.
Now, Simmons is free to focus on what she truly loves — working with students. Under her leadership, they have decided to establish a leadership academy at PVU, which is roughly 50 miles outside Houston. Her goal is to help train students and future university leaders.
"I'm repaying all the kindness I received as a child," she said. "Those who assisted and advised me even though they didn't have to. I could not have done what I did without their help."
Simmons wants the program to focus on women and people of color who may not be considered for leadership posts.
"The greatest success I've had has been in getting people to adapt to the fact that they are not seen in the way that they perceive themselves to be seen, and helping them understand how to allow people to see their significant assets as opposed to superficial factors that may be turning people away," Simmons said.
She will not be assigned to a certain department, so Simmons can teach or work with students from anywhere throughout the campus. She stated that she may teach leadership courses in the business school.
Simmons was the first African-American woman to lead an Ivy League school, spending time at both Smith College and Brown University in Rhode Island. Now, she believes that Prairie View can continue increasing its academic programs and improving its quality of teaching. The board's involvement in the historically Black university has only recently become more relevant to them, she said.
“Those in control of the system don't always know as much as they should,” says Simmons, noting that several regents have just recently visited the campus. "This system wants to be the best in the country. In my view, their ambition only helps Prairie View. Then they have to want to be the best HBCU in the country. And so I think everybody should understand that and try to benefit from that."
A 14-person search committee comprising students, professors, administrators, and community members will look for her replacement nationwide. The Chancellor will next advise the Board of Regents of Texas A&M. Simms said the institution wants a new president by summer 2023. They first met in April.