The TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for leadership excellence in higher education

Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, was named winner of the 2021 TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education. She was selected by an independent panel of judges for her significant impact at Prairie View and other outstanding higher education institutions, as well as her broader contributions to society and the greater good.

Before coming out of retirement to accept her current position, President Simmons led Brown University for over 10 years, and for six years before that she was president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. She’s also held faculty and administrative roles at the University of Southern California, Princeton University and Spelman College.

At Prairie View, a historically black institution founded in 1876 and a member of the Texas A&M University System, President Simmons has focused on supporting African American scholarship and research, increasing tenure-track faculty and building leadership across curricular areas. She has also set her sights on boosting the university’s financial sustainability, including raising funds to grow Prairie View’s endowment by 40%.

The Hesburgh Award is named in honor of the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., 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 (1917-2015) was a lifelong champion of human rights, the cause of peace, and care for the poor. He received both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

As a tribute to Father Hesburgh’s lasting legacy, the TIAA Institute grants the Hesburgh Award to a current college or university president or chancellor who embodies Father Hesburgh’s commitment to higher education and the world at large. The American Council on Education administers the award on the Institute’s behalf.

Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, winner of the 2021 Hesburgh Award

Previous winners

Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University, winner of the 2020 Hesburgh Award

Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College, winner of the 2020 Hesburgh Award