The Secretary of the University is one of those official sounding positions that many universities have on their list of senior administrators but few of us know much about. At Penn the incumbent of this august office is Leslie Kruhly, who has held the post since 2000.
As Secretary, Kruhly has had her photograph snapped more than most, since she’s the person who carries the mace at University processions. Most of her work, though, happens behind the scenes. One of the very few people in the University to report to both the President and the Chairman of the Board, Kruhly is charged with increasing the effectiveness of the Board of Trustees and working with the deans, senate directors and Provost to ensure that their Boards of Overseers are helping the deans and working to further the University’s goals.
In truth, she says, the most important part of her job involves, “working to help make sure the individuals we choose as trustees are the very best volunteers who can help us in terms of wisdom and overall philosophical approach, but also to make certain that when they meet their meetings are productive… that they understand what President Gutmann’s goals are and that the administration understands what the trustees are thinking and what their concerns are.”
Q. What’s a typical workday like?
A. My day at Penn is generally divided between meetings either with the senior officers or a trustee meeting. I attend Overseer Board meetings and make presentations about the University. I have meetings with development and alumni relations as we’re getting to know volunteers. This office keeps what we call an ‘Overseers and Trustee pipeline’ so that we know the backgrounds and interests of volunteers to see where they might best be assigned.
But a year in my life might be more [to the point] because I have been Secretary at such an interesting time. With the Presidential search process started in summer of ’03 I worked with the Chairman and trustees and faculty and staff to bring that committee together. Starting last April I began working in earnest with President Gutmann on the inauguration, so a lot of my days were devoted to the planning of that.
Q. What have you been most proud of in your tenure as Secretary so far?
A. Our Overseer Boards are actually one of the things that I’m most proud of. This office has become much more active in working with the deans and directors on Overseer Boards.
Q. And they are what, exactly?
A. Every school and center has its own board and they are similar to the Trustee Board in that they’re comprised largely of Penn alums. They are basically there to be advisors and strategic allies of the deans in helping promote the school’s programs and operations. My office works with the deans to help identify new overseers for those boards. We represent the administration at those meetings and we give updates on what’s going on at the University because often the Overseer Boards feel somewhat isolated. One of the things that I’m also most proud of is that working with the Provost’s office we’ve created a group called the Provost’s Council on Arts and Culture, which comprises the directors of all the arts and culture venues, and we also have a special Arts Day so that all of the Overseer Boards can get together and talk about mutual interests and that’s really helped overcome the sense of isolation, of feeling that you’re always being dwarfed by what the schools are doing. I mean its hard to be at Penn if education and the training of students is not directly part of your mandate.
Q. What big issues are the Trustees dealing with now?
A. What they’ll be looking at now with President Gutmann is the full strategic meaning of the Penn Compact and the issues that she’s outlined as part of that. We’re going to be going into a lot of detail on what that really means for the research and educational and operational component of Penn, what the planned capital campaign will need to be in order to support that vision. The trustees are not in charge of the day-to-day management of operations. They are to be looking at things from 40,000 feet. They really try to get a larger view.
Q. How often does the makeup of the Board change?
A. It happens that in the next two years we have 23 positions coming open on the Board, 15 of which we have to identify brand new people for. I have been in this office for four years and I think maybe we’ve had three or four trustees a year, so it’s a time of major change.
Q. Tell me about the mace.
A. The mace basically is the symbol of the University and I encourage anyone who’s interested in seeing it [to do so]. It’s downstairs in the display case in College Hall. It has on it the seal of the University and within that [the words] “Laws Without Morals are in Vain” which I think is the most beautiful symbol. It is much lighter than it appears to be, and carrying it is I must say an extraordinary honor because when I hold the mace more than any other time I am reminded that there is an incredible tradition and history and I’m lucky enough to be the incumbent who starts the processions. Usually it’s carried on festive occasions so when I walk through a crowd with it … it’s always really thrilling and inspiring.
Q. Can you remember the first time you carried it?
A. The first time I carried the mace was Commencement of 2001. We actually had a terrible downpour and we had to cancel all the academic processions so I did not carry the mace nearly so far or long or have cheering crowds part in front of me.
Originally published on February 10, 2005