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November 22, 2021

First African American Ivy League university president to discuss importance of HBCUs

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and the first African American to serve as president of an Ivy League university, will join Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in a virtual discussion next week.

Simmons and John Shaw, institute director, will discuss Simmons’ path-breaking career in academic leadership and the unique role that historically Black colleges play in higher education and the social justice movement.

The conversation is set for 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29 and will be held via Zoom. The event is free and open to the public; registration is required to receive access to the webinar. Registration information is at

Simmons came out of retirement to lead Prairie View A&M University — a historically Black college and university and the second-oldest public higher education institution in Texas — on an interim basis in 2017 before becoming its president the following year. Simmons retired in 2012 after serving as Brown University president for 11 years, where she was the first African American to serve as president of an Ivy League school upon her appointment in 2001.

Before that, Simmons served as the president of Smith College — the largest women’s university in the U.S. — and as vice provost at Princeton University and provost at Spelman College, another HBCU.

Simmons was a first-generation college student when she attended Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans. She later got her Ph.D. at Harvard.

“President Simmons is an iconic leader in higher education in the United States,” Shaw said. “She is a trailblazing, historic, figure. We are eager to hear her views on the challenges now confronting higher education in America.”

The event is part of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s Understanding Our New World virtual conversation series with government and private sector leaders, political analysts, authors, academics and journalists.

Attendees are encouraged to submit questions for Simmons with their registration form or email questions to