Brown & Slavery & Justice

President Ruth J. Simmons’ letter to the Brown community, October 2006

Committee Communications

October 18, 2006

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

More than three years ago, I appointed a committee to study the relationship between the New England slave trade and the founding of our University. At that time, the University had just been through a very difficult year during which the campus had been roiled by debate around the placement of an anti-reparations advertisement in the Brown Daily Herald. The work of the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice was meant to demonstrate that, using valid research methods, open and candid discourse, and interdisciplinary collaboration, the campus could arrive at reasoned conclusions about the University’s history – a history that was at the time unclear in many regards.

That committee’s report is now completed and is being made available immediately and in full to the Brown community and others who have interest in this work. The report is available on the Committee’s web site at In addition, the Committee has accumulated a treasure trove of historic documents that can also be seen on the site. While some of this material may be difficult to view, I hope that you will agree that the documents that gave rise to the Committee’s report should be made available for further review and discussion.

I have asked the Committee to hold an open forum to discuss its report and respond to questions. I also invite members of the community to share their reactions to the document. Comments may be directed to the Office of Public Affairs and University Relations at

The recommendations that follow the report will be discussed in a number of settings, including the Brown University Community Council. When it is appropriate to do so, I will issue a university response to the recommendations and suggest what we might do with regard to the findings.

The report reflects the many months of research and debate carried out by the Committee. As such, it is dense and provocative. I would encourage those who have the time and interest to read the report in its entirety, rather than simply turning to the recommendations first. In addition, those who were not at Brown when the Committee commenced its work will find it helpful to read the introduction, in which the Committee describes its original charge and the context for its work. It is fair to say that, at the outset, the charge generated considerable comment, both laudatory and censorious. Since that time, numerous and varied institutions (including banks, universities and municipalities) have initiated similar efforts. The Committee deserves praise for demonstrating so steadfastly that there is no subject so controversial that it should not be submitted to serious study and debate.

Finally, it should be stressed that the Committee carried out its work on behalf of the many generations of Brown students who have been proud of their attachment to the University. They believed, as I do, that there is much cause for such pride, given Brown’s remarkable history of truth seeking and progressive action. That this history presents itself in many facets does not surprise; that it gives us a window onto our own time and the opportunity to see how we might respond to current human rights issues is undeniable. In that sense, the report presents an opportunity to appreciate not only the full historical context of the University’s founding, but also to use these insights as a point of departure to inform the choices to be made in the face of contemporary moral dilemmas.

I thank Professor James Campbell for his leadership as chair of the Committee, and the Committee members for their work. I look forward to the debate that will no doubt follow the issuance of this report.


Ruth J. Simmons