Ruth Simmons, president of the historically Black Prairie View A&M University, said Friday she will resign at the end of February, four months earlier than her expected resignation date, June 1.
The abrupt resignation appears to be over a difference with Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp over hiring during the rest of Simmons' term as president. In a letter to the campus community 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."
Simmons declined further comment through a university spokesperson.
In a statement, Sharp said that presidents in the Texas A&M System who are leaving cannot hire senior staff or deans except on an interim basis so the new president can choose their team. Sharp said he informed Simmons he would not make exceptions and she chose to resign.
"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 in a statement.
Simmons announced last March that she would step down as president of Prairie View, where she has served since 2017. Sharp convinced her to come out of retirement to lead the historically Black university.
The Houston native been a leading voice in higher education for decades and previously worked at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she served as the president, and Brown University, where she was the first Black woman to lead an Ivy League school.
Under her leadership, Prairie View grew its endowment by 40%, increased fundraising and boosted financial aid. In 2020, billionaire MacKenzie Scott donated $50 million to the university.
Simmons was supposed to serve until the incoming president, Tomikia LeGrande, assumed the role on June 1.
LeGrande is the current vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Simmons said she would remain at the university as a professor and continue to help with university fundraising and leadership development.
In the letter, Simmons pledged to continue advocating for historically Black colleges and universities.
"I will support the efforts of faculty, staff and students who seek the best for themselves and their university," she wrote. "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."
The Texas A&M System said it will appoint an interim president to serve before LeGrande starts in June.
Disclosure: Prairie View A&M University and the Texas A&M University System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/02/10/ruth-simmons-prairie-view-am/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.