Dr. Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View &M University

The TIAA Institute, in partnership with the American Council on Education (ACE), named Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, winner of the 2021 TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education. 

The Hesburgh Award recognizes current college or university presidents or chancellors for outstanding leadership. The award is named in honor of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., (1917-2015), past president of the University of Notre Dame and longtime member of the TIAA and CREF Boards of Overseers. A world-renowned educator and humanitarian, Father Hesburgh was a lifelong champion of human rights, the cause of peace and care of the poor. 

“President Simmons demonstrates the best of what leaders in higher education should strive to be,” said David P. Richardson, head of the TIAA Institute and managing director of research. “She’s an avid proponent of racial and social justice, working to improve student access and success, particularly for those who have been historically marginalized. And she’s done it all while strengthening the financial sustainability and academic rigor of institutions under her leadership.”

After serving as president of Brown University for 11 years, and before that as president of Smith College, Dr. Simmons returned to her native Texas in 2017 to lead Prairie View A&M University, the second-oldest public institution of higher education in the state. During her tenure at Smith, she started the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college. In 2001, after her appointment at Brown, she became the first female president and the first Black president of an Ivy League institution.

“I can think of no greater honor than to be acknowledged as a TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh awardee’ said Dr. Simmons. “Few presidents or public figures have exemplified as well as Father Hesburgh the combination of leadership qualities that I most admire and have aspired to emulate: empathy, courage, and integrity. I am truly humbled by this honor.”

More recently, under President Simmons’ leadership, Prairie View launched the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice, which will serve as a research, policy and implementation center aimed at overturning systemic biases that impede people’s constitutional rights. She has also focused on ensuring Prairie View’s financial sustainability of the Historically Black College, having raised tens of millions of dollars since the start of her tenure.

“It is a privilege for ACE to join the TIAA Institute in recognizing one of higher education’s most transformative and ground-breaking leaders,” said American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell. “Ruth Simmons continues to make an enormous impact across the higher education landscape, expanding opportunity for women and underserved individuals and boosting the capacity of every institution she serves. Her unflagging dedication to her students and drive to ensure that post-secondary education is an effective engine for social and economic equity reflects the spirit and commitment exemplified by Rev. Hesburgh.”

ACE independently administers the Hesburgh Award on the TIAA Institute’s behalf. ACE will celebrate President Simmons and other 2021 award recipients online next week with video interviews and more.