Dr. Ruth Simmons
This 2021 photo shows Prairie View A&M University President Ruth Simmons in her office on the Prairie View, Texas, campus. (Michael T. Thomas/Prairie View A&M University Marketing and Communications via AP)

Prairie View A&M University president Dr. Ruth J. Simmons was set to resign in June 2023, but shocked alumni and students when she announced she was leaving early. It’s a decision that alumni say has left them “deeply dissappointed.”

“While it appears that her early departure may have been triggered by a dispute regarding the scope of President Simmons’ power and authority during her final months in office, this is not the issue that matters to most alumni and students,” PVAMU’s alumni association President Mark Falls Sr. wrote in a statement. “We care about the treatment of our president as well as about whether actions taken by the Texas A&M Chancellor and Board of Regents serve the best interest of our university, faculty and students.”

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, Simmons said she was 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.”

Sources say just months before her resignation, Simmons began hiring department heads, which Texas A&M Controller John Sharp says is against policy.

“When Presidents in The Texas A&M University System announce they are leaving, they cannot hire senior staff or Deans except on an interim basis, so that the new President can choose the leadership team he or she will be working with during their term. This decade-long policy applies to all of our Presidents‚” Sharp said in response to her statement. “I informed Dr. Simmons that we will not make exceptions to this policy 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.”

Simmons announced last March that she would step down as president of PVAMU, where she has served since 2017. The Houston native, who came out of retirement for the job, has been a leading voice in higher education for decades and previously worked as president at Smith College in Massachusetts 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, took over June 1. LeGrande is the current vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Simmons had agreed to continue at the university as a professor and continue to help with university fundraising and leadership development. With the early departure, it looks like that is off the table, though 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.”

Simmons is headed to Rice University as a President’s Distinguished Fellow. She is a Rice trustee emerita that served on the board from 2014 to 2018, and will work with a variety of programs across campus and advise the president’s office, in addition to collaborating with faculty and staff to build out programs for students to develop future leaders at Rice, according to the university.

The Texas A&M System said it will appoint an interim president to serve before LeGrande starts in June.