For Penn, Gutmann's tenure is proving golden

The Penn president during an interview in her office last week. She said of her extended contract, "Until July 2019,I know what I'll be doing pretty much 24/7 . . ., which is everything in my power for Penn."
The Penn president during an interview in her office last week. She said of her extended contract, "Until July 2019,I know what I'll be doing pretty much 24/7 . . ., which is everything in my power for Penn."
Posted: September 17, 2012

University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann stepped to the lectern and laid out some of her ambitions for the years ahead, including building a new residence hall with a sloping lawn and state-of-the-art facilities.

"I'm hoping to announce a naming gift for that this year," Gutmann confidently told the 350 Penn alumni and parents at a Manhattan gathering last week.

When laughter rippled through the room, Gutmann convincingly followed: "It's only $50 million. I'm pretty sure it's going to happen."

Penn's veteran leader has reason to be confident. With 3 1/2 months left in the university's $3.5 billion "Making History" campaign, Penn already has exceeded its goal - by about $400 million as of June 30.

That's especially noteworthy considering that the five-year campaign was launched publicly in October 2007, just before the country plunged into a recession. More than 250,000 people have donated to the campaign, including Ray and Ruth Perelman, who gave $225 million in 2011, Penn's largest gift ever.

The campaign officially ends in December, though Gutmann's work at Penn will continue.

The board of trustees in May extended her contract through 2019, which would give her 15 years at the helm of the Ivy League school, also the largest private employer in Philadelphia with its 12 schools and a health system. Serving 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Penn operates on a $6 billion-plus annual budget.

"She's sitting in an incredibly complex environment, and in her first eight years, she has simply been outstanding on every measure," said David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast and chairman of Penn's board of trustees.

As a private institution, Penn doesn't make Gutmann's current salary public. She earned $1.46 million in 2010-11, the most recent year for which data are publicly available.

In addition to the successful campaign, Gutmann's eight-year tenure has been highlighted by her policy to expand access to a Penn education by doling out all grants rather than loans to students in need, and by her hiring of prominent professors who have joint appointments in two fields - designed to integrate learning and teaching across disciplines.

She has created more than 100 named professorships and made good on campus improvements, including transforming an ugly, 24-acre asphalt parking area into Penn Park, athletic and recreational grounds. Several new education and research buildings, including a brightly lit nanotechnology center for Walnut Street, also are planned for the 279-acre campus.

She's faced little public criticism, other than for her unwillingness to explain the sudden departure of former admissions dean Lee Stetson in 2007 after nearly 30 years, and the 2006 Halloween party in which a student snapped a picture of himself dressed as a suicide bomber with Gutmann.

'Pretty much 24/7'

In numerous interviews with current and former students, faculty, staff, and city leaders, it's hard to find a detractor. While praising her leadership, some said that in her early years at Penn, Gutmann was not a skilled public speaker but that she has grown tremendously in that role since then.

Despite her success, Gutmann said in a rare, hour-long interview that she has much work to do.

"Until July 2019, I know what I'll be doing pretty much 24/7 . . ., which is everything in my power for Penn. . .," Gutmann, 62, a premier political science scholar, said as she sat in her meticulously kept office, where rows of books sit in alphabetical order.

Besides the campaign, one accomplishment she is proudest of is Penn's no-loan policy. The university meets students' financial need with grants rather than add to their debt burden. While some schools including Dartmouth and Cornell recently retreated from the policy, Gutmann said she remains committed, calling it a "sacred trust."

"It's got to be the mission of a great university to make its education available to the most talented, hardworking students," she said. "We will never back down from that."

She noted that one in seven Penn freshmen this year are in line to become first-generation college graduates.

Penn has more than doubled its financial-aid budget over the last eight years, allocating $181 million for undergraduates this year.

Her own experience

"By doing that, we have actually decreased the cost of a Penn education to every undergraduate who has demonstrated need," she said.

Tuition, fees, and room and board at Penn have steadily risen during her tenure, topping $56,000 this year.

Penn has set a goal of raising $350 million for undergraduate financial aid within the capital campaign. As of this summer, the university had reached $323 million.

Gutmann's commitment to financial aid in part stems from her own experience. She is a first-generation college student who went to Harvard-Radcliffe on full scholarship including loans, which eventually were forgiven because of her service as a teacher.

Gutmann's father, Kurt, died when she was a junior in high school. He was her hero, having the courage and foresight to leave Nazi Germany as a young college student and start a new life, eventually settling in the United States, where she was born.

He had no life-insurance policy, and Gutmann's mother, Beatrice, went to work as a secretary at Monroe-Woodbury (N.Y.) High School, which Gutmann attended.

A family doctor suggested that Gutmann, an only child, math whiz, and class valedictorian, apply to Radcliffe, which she says at the time "I'd never heard of."

"There was no way I could have gone to an Ivy League institution or any expensive college or university without financial aid," Gutmann said. "I wasn't very sophisticated at all, nor was my family, about higher education."

She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree and then got her master's in political science from the London School of Economics in 1972 and her doctorate in political science from Harvard in 1976.

Gutmann joined the faculty at Princeton in 1976. Her first major leadership venture beyond scholarship came in 1989 when she sought to create a universitywide ethics center at Princeton. Over lunch, she relayed her vision to 1932 Princeton graduate Laurance S. Rockefeller and walked out the door with a $1 million commitment. Shortly after, the venture capitalist committed $20 million.

She later became dean of Princeton faculty, then provost.

At Penn, Gutmann sized up the school and set a plan for which she has won high marks from faculty.

"President Gutmann quickly assessed Penn's unique strengths and formulated a vision to grow and integrate them to increase Penn's impact, locally and globally," said Susan Margulies, professor of bioengineering and chair of the faculty senate. "In addition, she is passionate about increasing access to Penn's scholarly community and has promoted policies to enrich the diversity of our student and faculty community. She inspires faculty, students, staff, and alumni as a tireless advocate for Penn."

Students noted Gutmann's enthusiastic involvement and visibility.

"During spring of my freshman year, I went down to Franklin Field to watch women's lacrosse play," said Dan Bernick, 20, a junior political science major from Minnesota and student body president. "Right to my side sitting there is none other than President Gutmann. She's covered in Penn red, cheering just as loud as any one of the student fans sitting with us."

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia, was similarly taken with Gutmann, who early on in her presidency came out to help fix up and paint Sayre, then a public middle school in the Philadelphia School District.

"I knew then that she was the real thing," Blackwell said.

Her opinion hasn't changed.

"She really cares about her community and she is sincere about the role that the university has to play in the community," Blackwell said.

Gov. Rendell, a Penn graduate and big fan of former president Judith Rodin, said he never thought Penn could get someone as good. The first time he met Gutmann, he thought: "How can this little waif of a woman possibly fill the shoes of someone like Judith Rodin?"

But Gutmann, he said, "has done an incredible job. There was no loss on the effectiveness of the president's office between Amy and Judith."

Mayor Nutter, a graduate of Penn, also spoke highly of Gutmann, especially for broadening access to students and pumping dollars into the city's economy.

While Rodin made a significant investment in the campus and community, "Amy has certainly continued and heightened that level of activity," Nutter said.

Those on her team describe her as thoughtful and cautious, not necessarily a "first adopter" of risky initiatives but decisive when the situation demands it.

Gutmann holds weekly "discussion group" meetings with her cabinet where "wild and crazy" ideas are welcomed and vetted.

It's where the university decided to pursue its venture in online education, offering 16 classes in medicine and other areas. About 500,000 people have registered to take the free, online Penn courses.

While calling it a "grand experiment," Gutmann said the project has the potential to "enable us to push out more of what we do on campus to the world."

Those who interact with her are amazed at her energy.

"The fact that she can keep all those balls in the air is absolutely astonishing, and find time to write a book besides," said 1976 Wharton graduate Lee Spelman Doty, president of the Penn alumni board and managing director at J.P. Morgan.

The slender Gutmann, a Pilates practitioner, is known to do business while walking. She also enjoys bicycling, swimming, and hiking.

This summer, she released her 16th book, The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It, which she cowrote with Harvard professor Dennis Thompson.

She also chairs President Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Her calendar is often filled from early morning to late night. Two weeks ago, she presided over a convocation for 2,500 undergraduates in suffocating heat at the Palestra, the next day signed off on a new clinical building at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center that will be put before trustees next month, and then met with staff on expanding interdisciplinary teaching.

Later, she talked with student leaders who want to get out the vote during the election. Her public evening ended at a major donors' event at the Barnes Foundation.

Then she went home, toting her canvas "Penn bag," filled with her "homework."

She makes time for movies - "I'm a sucker for romantic comedies" - books and sports, including the Phillies and Eagles.

Gutmann enjoys cooking, and counts among her specialties souffl├ęs, baked Alaska, and French toast, which she makes on Sunday mornings for her husband, Michael W. Doyle, a professor of law and international affairs at Columbia. Their daughter, Abigail, is an assistant chemistry professor at Princeton.

"Our daughter is the real brainiac," Gutmann said. "She makes us look stupid."

'Very proud'

Looking ahead, Cohen, the trustees chair, said he would like to see Gutmann continue to work on global ventures, further efforts to diversify faculty, and grow the university's $6.8 billion endowment, which, though large, is still smaller than some of Penn's peer schools.

Gutmann said she also would like to further develop Penn South Bank, formerly DuPont lab, to market Penn professors' inventions.

"I would love to see what's just beginning to happen now expand. We're seeing small start-up companies take the discoveries of some of our engineers and bring them into the market," she said. As an example, she cited the hand-size robots by Penn engineer Vijay Kumar.

She'll also continue efforts to improve the campus, including the college house that she told alumni about in Manhattan. And of course, that means more fund-raising.

"One of the things you'll find is that people just love to throw money at Penn," said Charles Ingersoll, '69, executive vice president of the Haverford Trust Co., who made the trip to Manhattan from his home in Wyndmoor. "We're all very proud of it."

Recent graduates also attended. Amanda Bicofsky, 26, a 2008 graduate who lives in Manhattan, said she donated the year she graduated but not again until this year.

"Seeing everything that has gone on in the university and the progress inspired me to give again this year," Bicofsky said after hearing Gutmann. "And I definitely will give again."

Amy Gutmann

Age: 62

Hometown: Born in Brooklyn. Raised in Monroe, N.Y.

Education: Bachelor's from Harvard-Radcliffe, 1971; master's in political science from the London School of Economics, 1972; doctorate in political science from Harvard, 1976.

Work history: 1976-2004, Princeton - first as a faculty member, then as dean of the faculty and provost. 2004-present, University of Pennsylvania, president.

Family: Married to Columbia University professor Michael W. Doyle; one daughter, Abigail, an assistant professor of chemistry at Princeton, and son-in-law Jakub Jurek, an assistant professor of economics

at Princeton.

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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