Since her nomination to become the University’s eighth president last winter, Amy Gutmann has spent a lot of time quietly thinking and talking with people about how to move Penn forward. Now she’s eager to get to work. BY JOHN PRENDERGAST

Talking with Dr. Amy Gutmann a few days after she moved into her College Hall office—the walls still bare after a fresh coat of paint—it quickly becomes apparent that her toughest challenge since being elected Penn’s president was waiting for July 1, and the official start of her tenure, to arrive. Where some might be daunted by the University’s size and complexity, or by the burden of expectations that comes with Penn’s rapid advance over the past decade, Gutmann exudes a positive sense of relief—and not just because, as much as there is to do, it still beats holding down three jobs: “the provost at Princeton, the president-elect at Penn, and making the move” to Philadelphia. “This seems much more normal to me,” she says. “I’ve always liked to work hard.”

Gutmann, an internationally renowned political philosopher and democratic theorist whose work often deals with ways of negotiating highly charged social issues, says her way of leading “is by deliberating with the broadest range of people in the Penn family and inviting them to join with me in furthering Penn’s mission, as I articulate it, and as I make sure we really do move forward very effectively.”

To begin that effort, through the winter and spring, Gutmann traveled weekly from Princeton to West Philadelphia, meeting with former President Judith Rodin CW’66 Hon’04, the deans of Penn’s 12 schools and senior administrators, trustees and alumni leaders, and various faculty and students to discuss the University’s strengths and the challenges ahead, as well as “just getting to know people and having them get to know me,” she says. “One of the pleasures of being at Penn is that there are so many great people here, and great in all senses of the term—dedicated to Penn, full of knowledge and understanding, eager, not complacent, energetic, and wanting to make a difference.” (For how these positive feelings are reciprocated, see page 34.)

As valuable as these meetings were, “I really believe in leading while learning, so my pure learning experience is over,” she adds. “When I arrived here, I was ready to start leading.” Besides continuing to refine the University’s mission and priorities building on the “strong base” provided by the current strategic plan [“Gazetteer,” September/October 2002], Gutmann’s immediate focus is on filling vacancies in several senior administrative and faculty posts and planning the events around her inauguration, scheduled for October 13-15. (For more information, visit

“One of the ways that I am planning the inauguration very personally is to put together a series of panels for a symposium that will be irresistible to our alumni as well as our students—because it will address the challenges that Penn faces in the 21st century,” she says. The symposium, titled Rising to the Challenges of a Diverse Democracy, will bring leading experts together on campus for discussions encompassing the communication of knowledge in an unequal world, how investments in science and medicine can improve lives, ways of educating professionals to be engaged citizens, leading and learning from local and global communities, and making the most of cultural differences.

Rising to a challenge is clearly a theme that resonates with Penn’s new leader. “It’s a delight to be here, and it’s been wonderful to get started,” she says. “July 1st was just a great day.”

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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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"A Palpable Sense of Optimism"

First impressions of Penn's new president.