Simmons to wash hands of Goldman

Courtesy of the Office of the President

Office of the President

President Simmons is expected to officially wash her hands of Goldman Sachs’ board of directors on Friday when shareholders elect a new director at their annual meeting. Simmons’ announcement that she would not stand for re-election at Friday’s meeting came on Feb. 12. In case you’re just tuning in now, click “more” to be brought up to speed on the issues behind the decision.

In the midst of last winter’s controversy over bonuses paid out to Wall Street executives, Herald columnist Simon Liebling sharply called attention to Simmons’ position on Goldman’s Board of Directors, where she has been one of ten individuals responsible for determining the CEO’s bonuses that many have found so exorbitant.

An especially controversial attack on Simmons, the column triggered a sizable response from the community, including a column from Hunter Fast in defense of Simmons, an angry letter directed at Simmons from an alum, and an editorial condemning Goldman’s actions while supporting Simmons in reforming the processes of Wall Street.

In an interview with The Herald published in February, Simmons said she would not be “buffeted about” by all the debate about her position on the board of Goldman, and she didn’t expect any of her negative publicity to spill over to Brown.

By the end of the week that article was published, Goldman had announced Simmons would not stand for re-election to the board in May after ten years of service, citing “increasing time requirements associated with her position as President of Brown University” as the reason for Simmons’ announced departure. Simmons said the decision was hers to make alone, and that she wasn’t pressured by Brown’s Corporation.

New York Times reporter Graham Bowley visited campus, seeking an explanation for the actions of a director of one of the world’s most important financial services firms. He didn’t come upon much new information, but he did later write a feature on the front page of the Times’ business section about Brown, which was supposedly in some state of uproar over the “bogeyman of Wall Street” who “lurks” on campus. Liebling, whom the Times’ article claims “got tongues wagging” at Brown, seemed to be allowed to represent the student voice in the article:

“Most people agreed with my basic point that this brought shame on the university,” Mr. Liebling, 19, said during an interview in a coffee shop at the center of campus. “It has been taken by most people to be outrageous.”

Herald columnist Andrea Matthews was quick to point out in what she called an open letter to the Times that Liebling’s view probably isn’t characteristic of the Brown community, calling the Times’ reporting overly editorial and agenda-driven. But as Matthews points out, the article has circulated widely in the blogosphere since its publication, so it’s likely the damage is already done to disenfranchised Brown students whose opinions have been misrepresented to the world.

Liebling had to write one more column on the topic to commend Simmons’ decision to leave the board, but he doesn’t buy into the excuse of increasing time requirements, which he supposes is just what she “had to say.”

Two months ago, no one knew about her Goldman connection, much less discussed it. Now it fills the Herald for a few weeks, and all of a sudden she gives up a post that has been hers for over 10 years.

Simmons has been reluctant to talk about her dealings with Goldman since the interview this winter, citing legal restrictions regarding insider information. But perhaps with her departure from the board on Friday, part of this burden of silence may be lifted from her.

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