“A Palpable Sense of Optimism”
First impressions of Penn’s new president.

 

Princeton Provost Amy Gutmann’s selection to succeed Judith Rodin as Penn president drew widespread accolades from her former colleagues at the University’s New Jersey neighbor and from across higher education. Based on their early experiences, Penn’s deans and senior administrators echo that praise, citing Gutmann’s open-mindedness, curiosity, insight, respect for others, and sensitivity to the University’s history and culture.

At Princeton, Gutmann was both the school’s chief academic and budget officer, and her responsibilities extended to managing a multi-million dollar building program—background that will come in handy given Penn’s array of construction projects, the most extensive of which is the development of the postal lands along the Schuylkill River acquired last spring.

“The completion of any successful construction project requires the bringing together of multiple stakeholders and specialists to achieve a grand vision,” says Omar Blaik, senior vice president, facilities and real estate services. “Dr. Gutmann’s track record is illustrative of a leader who has both the grand vision and the steady focus to pull together all the different specialists into one strategy and build something spectacular.”

“Obviously she makes her own decisions, but she does so by reaching out to people and listening to their opinions,” says Wharton School Dean Patrick Harker CE’81 GCE’81 Gr’83. “She really does believe what she preaches on democracy and dialogue—and she practices that with us.”

SEAS Dean Eduardo Glandt GCh’75 Gr’77 had already heard good things about Gutmann from colleagues at Princeton, where about a quarter of all undergraduates are enrolled in engineering. “Of course at this point she is absorbing, and so in a sense it’s early to say—but one has indications,” he says. “She is a quick study.” Within hours after he met with Gutmann, leaving behind handouts and CD-ROMs on the school, “She had read everything and sent some notes to me; she had watched the CD-ROMs and she e-mailed back to me,” he says. “She has been eager to absorb all the knowledge that she needs—and that bodes well.”

Michael X. Delli Carpini C’75 G’75, dean of the Annenberg School and a writer on politics himself, was already familiar with Gutmann and her work before her election as president. (She has sat on advisory boards for Annenberg and will also have a secondary faculty appointment there; her primary one will be in political science.) He calls her a “true public intellectual” who “addresses important issues of democratic politics and does so with a masterful blend of theory, research, and practice. As a result, her work is relevant not only to scholars, but also to practitioners, policy-makers, and citizens.”

When she learned of Gutmann’s nomination, Nursing School Dean Afaf Meleis admits to some initial concern about Princeton’s lack of a nursing program. “It always worries me when we have a new administrator who has not been involved in nursing before—because usually nursing then become vulnerable,” says the plain-speaking dean, who communicated her feelings to Gutmann. “Within days, she came to meet with me—and I give her a great deal of credit for that—and immediately we established a wonderful relationship.”

Meleis also feels a “great deal of resonance” between her own scholarly concerns and her ambitions for the School of Nursing and Gutmann’s thinking and writing. Her focus on issues of “democracy, liberty, equity, getting rid of any marginalization, and giving special attention to diverse populations” has much in common with Meleis’s own interest in “vulnerable populations,” she says—both as related to women’s health and nursing’s traditionally undervalued status as a profession.

On the institutional level, Meleis says she shares Gutmann’s interest in “interdisciplinarity and the connection between the different components of the University, and the importance of making the University an institution of learning that incorporates the principles of equity and liberty.”

Meleis also emphasizes Gutmann’s respect for Penn’s history and culture. “Because of her style of leadership—of being a learner as well as a provider of knowledge—she is taking her time to listen to the different constituents and learn about the culture of this university,” she says. “She is going to respect the culture, respect the history, and use that to foster the best in the different constituents to move us forward in the 21st century.”

In addition to the above qualities, Penn’s new president “brings a sense of humor and a sense of proportion to the job, which I think is indispensable,” says Dr. Peter Conn, the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English, who was appointed interim provost by Gutmann following the departure of Dr. Robert Barchi Gr’72 M’72 GM’73 for the presidency of Thomas Jefferson University. (Of his appointment, Conn says, “I am delighted to have the chance to be a part of this transition,” and responds with mock indignation when asked about any interest in the position on a permanent basis: “John! It would be premature to speculate on processes that have not even begun.”)

Gutmann is also, he says, “exceptionally articulate in enunciating the core values upon which higher education is based. The sense of purpose that she brings, the sense even of vision, is very exciting.

“Penn is a remarkable institution which has made terrific strides in the past decade or two, and I feel around campus a palpable sense of optimism about the institution itself and about the new leadership,” he adds. “I think we are poised to do even more with the extraordinary collection of students and faculty and staff and physical resources that are gathered here on this campus.”

For Conn, a long-time civic booster who “never tires” of walking the city’s streets, Gutmann’s evident enjoyment of her new home is another big plus. This spring, he gave the newly elected president and her husband a walking tour of Philadelphia. “It was delightful to see a person who had clearly found the place she wanted to be,” he says. “Her response to Philadelphia is enthusiastic and very well-informed already, and clearly simply enhances her response to the University.”

Trustee chair James S. Riepe W’65 WG’67 , who headed the search committee that recommended Gutmann for the presidency, says that she is “off to just a great start, and the feedback I’ve gotten both on campus and off campus has been extremely positive.” He adds, “We traded one high-energy president for another one, I can tell you that.”—J.P.

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

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"A Palpable Sense of Optimism"

First impressions of Penn's new president.