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Berkeley Talks: Ruth Simmons on access and equity in higher education

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Ruth Simmons sits and talks with a person on stage after giving a lecture at UC Berkeley
Ruth Simmons, a longtime professor and academic administrator, gave the 2024 Clark Kerr Lecture at UC Berkeley in April.

Brandon Sánchez Mejia/UC Berkeley

In Berkeley Talks episode 196, Ruth Simmons, a longtime professor and academic administrator, discusses how the journey to equal access and fairness in education has reached a critical inflection point — and why educators are essential to the progress we need to see.

“History has shown: The failure to resolve satisfactorily the issue of whether and how the state should address the causes and effects of discrimination will continue to impair progress, sow seeds of hatred and despair, and make even more distant the goals and ideals enshrined in the United States Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution,” Simmons said during the Clark Kerr Lecture at UC Berkeley in April.

“Yet, as we know,” Simmons continued, “considerable efforts have been undertaken by various branches of government, non-profit institutions, for-profit institutions, educational institutions and activists to reconcile the immense differences over what constitutes appropriate remedies for past and present discrimination. That we have failed to resolve this question adequately almost 250 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights proves the intractability of the dilemma.”

Simmons, currently the president’s distinguished fellow at Rice University, served as the eighth president of Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU, from 2017 until 2023. And from 2001 to 2012, she served as the 18th president of Brown University, where she was the first Black president of an Ivy League institution.

In closing, Simmons said: “Education makes possible the smoothing out of the unequal circumstances into which many are born. Educators are therefore on the front lines in ensuring that this democracy endures because we are optimistic enough, brave enough and wise enough to create and manage a process in which the public as a whole feels well-served by our work.

“And so our efforts to make plain where we stand in regard to evening out unequal circumstances are, in this moment, all-important. So let’s get about the work of making plain where we stand.”This April 18 event was sponsored by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at BerkeleyWatch a video of the discussion on the center’s YouTube page.