Family is an important value for Gutmann. From top: two-year old Amy with her mother, Beatrice Gutmann, and smiling for the camera; with her daughter Abigail and favorite Teddy bear; and with Abigail and husband Michael Doyle.

Amy Gutmann grew up in Monroe, New York, a small lakeside community, “very rural” at the time, which except for being about an hour north of New York City was “indistinguishable from the heartland of America,” she says. Her devotion to her parents, Kurt and Beatrice Gutmann, both now deceased, remains strong and apparent, their example a touchstone; at the press conference announcing her nomination, she concluded by saying she only wished they could be there “to know that this has happened, this wonderful opportunity in my life.” She describes them as “extraordinary people with great values” and a powerful faith in America as the land of opportunity—if not entirely for themselves then certainly for their only daughter, to whom they gave “everything a child could hope for.”

Her father was a man devoted to his work and family, who “imparted tremendous strength” to her. In 1939, he took the lead in convincing his relatives to make their escape from Hitler’s Germany, traveling first to India and then to the United States. Her mother was born in America, “a child of the Depression” who always wanted to be a teacher but had to work from the time she was young.

For as long as she can remember, Gutmann shared her mother’s ambition, only changing the level at which she wanted to teach as she moved through the educational system. “When I was in kindergarten, the only thing I remember is that I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, and then I went to high school and wanted to be a high-school teacher. In college, I wanted to be a college teacher,” she says.

After graduating from Monroe-Woodbury High School, where she was valedictorian, she went on to Harvard-Radcliffe College, initially intending to major in mathematics but eventually gravitating to politics and philosophy. Math always came easily to her—“No one had to teach me,” she says—and she remains attracted to the discipline’s beauty and elegance. Yet she hungered for something less purely intellectual, that engaged more with the world at large.

“I think it would have been impossible for me to know I wanted to be a political philosopher when I was in kindergarten,” she says with a laugh. “Even in high school I was never introduced to a subject matter called philosophy, let alone political philosophy. It was a great challenge when I got to college [to realize] that there was a subject that combined analytical challenge with practical application to the world.”

While still an undergraduate, Gutmann was admitted to a Harvard graduate seminar on justice taught by John Rawls, whose 1971 book A Theory of Justice, which proposed the notion of “justice as fairness,” was both extraordinarily influential among political philosophers and also widely read and discussed. In an obituary she wrote for Princeton Alumni Weekly after his death in November 2002, Gutmann called Rawls “the greatest political philosopher of the 20th century,” possessed of a unique “combination of intellectual genius and moral goodness.” She also credits Michael Walzer, Robert Nozick, and Judith Shklar, scholars of widely differing views who were all then on the Harvard faculty, with helping spark her interest in political philosophy and motivating her “to teach and write about issues of social justice.”

In time, Gutmann saw that her interest in teaching could be tied to an interest in the role of higher-education institutions and how they can contribute to “freedom and opportunity for all humanity,” and that focus has continued up to the present. A major reason she was attracted to becoming president of Penn was the University’s tradition of melding theory and practice, she says, “a way to show how important higher education is” to society.

She followed her undergraduate degree with a master’s in political science from the London School of Economics in 1972 and then returned to Harvard for her Ph.D. in 1976. While in graduate school, she met her future husband, Michael Doyle, a fellow student of political science, and both went on to join Princeton’s faculty. They were married in 1976, and have a daughter, Abigail, now a Ph.D. student in chemistry at Harvard.

Both husband and daughter approve of Gutmann’s new job.

“I’m just delighted,” says Doyle, currently the Harold Brown Professor of Law and International Affairs at Columbia University. “I know that Amy is thrilled, and so is her whole family. It’s a wonderful opportunity for her. We think it’s a great opportunity for Penn as well.”

Husband and wife share a scholarly interest in issues related to democracy, but Doyle’s work focuses more on the international system and how it can be made more participatory, he says. Before moving to Columbia from Princeton last September, he had served for two years as a special advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations.

He will live in Philadelphia, for now sharing Gutmann’s temporary residence on Rittenhouse Square until renovations to the President’s House are complete this fall, and will keep an apartment in New York for days when he is teaching.

Abigail Gutmann Doyle also plans to make the trip down from Cambridge to visit “as often as I can,” she says. “We definitely try and make time to be [together] as a family even if we’re all doing different things and traveling. I’ve been twice now to the area, and really enjoyed it.”

With both parents on the Princeton faculty, Abigail was born and spent her childhood in the town. She calls it a “great place to grow up,” but says Penn is the place for her mother now. “Just from her personality and how she has grown over the past 10 years, it’s a great job for her,” she says. “She is an amazing people person and able to interact with other faculty members and understand what they want and also understand where students want the university to go. At the same time, she is extremely detail-oriented, which is impressive for someone who understands the bigger picture of things.”

Though she is pursuing a different field of study from that of her parents, she intends to follow them to a career in academe. “I love teaching, and I’ve seen from my parents how much fun it can be,” she says. “You get to prolong being a kid—you’re always learning—and I love the idea of educating other people along with them educating me.”

As for the values her parents instilled in her, Abigail says: “A lot of [what they taught] has to do with the integrity of your personality and how it translates into your work, as well as to your interactions with your friends. No matter what, they have always put their friendships above everything else—their friendship to me, but also to all their colleagues. And it’s amazing how well my mom keeps in touch with friends from her past—and it’s really surprising given what a busy person she is professionally. I’ve always really admired that.” 

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

Learning & Leading
By John Prendergast
Photography by Candace diCarlo

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