In 1983 Dr Simmons became a professor of Romance languages at Princeton and later served as Vice Provost. She was named President of Smith College in 1995, the first African American woman to lead a major college or university. While there she introduced the first engineering programs at any women's college.
Dr. Simmons became President of Brown University in 2001. She has introduced many global initiatives to network with institutions around the world, address world-wide concerns, and prepare all students to live in a trans-national world. She also created the Committee on Slavery and Justice which issued a public report on Brown University's role in slavery and the international slave trade.