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This interview with Ruth J. Simmons, president of Brown University for the last 11 years, was conducted and condensed byAdam Bryant. Dr. Simmons is stepping down at the end of this academic year and will continue as a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies.
Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?
A. Probably the first time I was a boss was when I was associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California. I was in my early 30s.
Q. Was that an easy transition?
A. It was. If I had to ask myself why, I would say it’s because I’d probably been building to the point where I was capable of doing those things without actually knowing that I could. And if you ask me how far back that went — this assemblage of skills and experience — I’d probably say that it went back to my childhood.
Q. How so?
A. I realized that I was an inveterate organizer from the earliest age. I’m the youngest of 12 children. And although I was the youngest, I tried to organize things in my family. When there were disputes, I tried to mediate. And I intervened in school as well to tell teachers what they were doing wrong, or at least to tell them what I didn’t like about what they were doing. I intervened sometimes in classes to take a leadership role. By the time I got to college, I was impossible.