Prairie View A&M University has lured a prominent former Ivy League president to temporarily lead the historically black university — a move that will likely surprise many in the higher education world, and even surprised the new president at first.
The decision was finalized by a unanimous vote of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents on Monday. Ruth Simmons, who became first black president of an Ivy League university when she took over Brown in 2001, will be interim president until a permanent replacement for current President George Wright can be found. Simmons presided over Brown for 11 years, and was once named by Time magazine as the best university president in the nation.
The Houstonian has been retired since 2012 and said she never expected to take a job like this. In an interview, she said she did it because the university has a mission that she believes in.
“Frankly, I was flabbergasted when I was approached about this — I didn’t know what to think,” Simmons said.
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The current president, George Wright, announced last week that he was stepping down to return to the faculty.
During the same meeting, the A&M System board voted to name Kelly Quintanilla the sole finalist to lead Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Quintanilla has held the interim post since January. Prior to then, she was provost. A&M System leaders considered merging A&M-Corpus Christi with Texas A&M University – Kingsville last year, but backed down from those plans in the face of community opposition.
The Prairie View vote is the more surprising move. The rural university doesn’t seem like an obvious fit for Simmons. U.S News and World Report considers Brown the 14th best university in America. Prairie View doesn’t crack the top 300. Brown is a research powerhouse. Prairie View’s faculty research is relatively modest.
Simmons said she has received numerous inquiries about returning to higher…