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“India is a more open society”

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Ruth J. Simmons
Ruth J. Simmons

Urvashi Sarkar

NEW DELHI: The journey from being the youngest of 12 siblings to becoming the first black president of an Ivy League institution in the United States was “some kind of an accident”, says Ruth J. Simmons, president of the US-based Brown University.

Ms. Simmons, who is currently on a five-day visit to India aimed at strengthening ties between Brown University and India, says the script of her life should have been written for someone else from an entirely different background. She studied at a racially segregated school in Texas and a black college before going to Harvard University following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.Stating that the Ivy League institutions could be “the epitome of elitism”, Ms. Simmons said the Brown University was different in terms of its long tradition of progressiveness.According to Ms. Simmons, her forthrightness, ability to negotiate and wealth of experience had also enabled her to achieve her current position.Ms. Simmons has come a long way from her humble background to holding significant administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University and Spelman College. She was also president of Smith College, the largest women's college in the United States.“During my school days I realised that there were opportunities to be had. The manner in which education can take someone from the fields to the path of empowerment is indeed miraculous. It is important that all children must get to school,” she said. Speaking about the impact of President Barack Obama on African Americans, Ms. Simmons said: “The day-to-day circumstances and economic conditions of African Americans have not changed. One person does not constitute change.

Yet in the American consciousness that somebody like Barack Obama could become President has been implanted forever and there is an impression that the glass ceiling has been broken and has caused some changes in the dynamics of the country.”

Since one Ivy League institute had appointed a black president did not imply that the rest were bound to follow suit, she added.While in the Capital, Ms. Simmons plans to meet Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and sign a memorandum of understanding with St. Stephen's College.Ms. Simmons will also visit Mumbai and address an audience at the Indian Institute of Technology there.

With regard to the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill which was recently given the green signal, Ms. Simmons said: “We are aware of the ongoing debate in this context. It shows that India is a more open society, unafraid of competition and is emerging as a global leader. We want our students to know more about India and we want Indian students to know more about us.”

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