Speculation rose on Tuesday night that longtime University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann would be named the next U.S. ambassador to Germany, following a report in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.
The report could not be immediately confirmed. In the position, Gutmann would become the Biden administration’s representative to one of America’s closest and most important allies.
Her father, Kurt, fled Nazi Germany near the start of the Holocaust and eventually settled in the United States. He died while Gutmann, an only child, math whiz, and class valedictorian, was in Monroe-Woodbury High School in New York.
The White House declined to comment Tuesday night. Penn spokesperson Steve MacCarthy declined to confirm or deny the report. Efforts to reach board of trustees chairperson David L. Cohen were unsuccessful. He has long said that he considers Gutmann to be the best college president in the nation.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a prominent Penn alumnus, said he had not heard news of a pending nomination but praised Gutmann’s intelligence and political knowledge.
“She would be a fine ambassador,” he said. “She’d be excellent.”
She has not been without critics during her tenure at the prestigious, Ivy League school.
She faced calls to improve mental-health services on campus after student suicides. And in 2014 she was criticized by members of Penn’s police force for participating in a student “die-in” protest, which symbolized the 4½ hours that the body of Michael Brown, a Black teenager, remained on the street after he was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Gutmann lay on the floor with student protesters when they took over her holiday party.
Gutmann must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the post, which would make her the first woman to serve as the ambassador to Germany, the newsmagazine reported.
The magazine said that with the decision, President Joe Biden sought to distance himself from predecessor Donald Trump, who in Richard Grenell sent a highly controversial figure to Berlin. Grenell attracted attention in Berlin, the magazine said, primarily through his provocative interviews and vacated his post early to serve Trump in Washington as intelligence coordinator.
If approved and sent to Berlin, the magazine said, Gutmann will face immediate challenges. The relationship between the two nations has been strained by the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is intended to bring Russian gas to Europe, a measure that the United States has opposed. A visit to Berlin last week by U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken failed to resolve the dispute, the magazine reported.
Almost since Biden was elected president, there’s been speculation that Gutmann, 71, could be tapped for a post in the administration. Some Penn administrators said at the time that they were almost expecting Gutmann to go to Washington.
Before Biden announced he would run for president, he appeared at the university for a conversation with Gutmann. He joined Penn as a presidential practice professor after he left the vice presidency and the university created a Washington-based center in his name, which focused on diplomacy and global engagement.
Biden was Penn’s commencement speaker in 2013, and attended his granddaughter Naomi’s graduation from Penn in May 2016. Since 2017 he’s been on the campus more than half a dozen times.
Gutmann, a Harvard-educated political scientist, has led Penn since 2004. The school is the largest private employer in Philadelphia. It includes 12 schools, more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and a large health system.
Her contract was due to expire next year , the conclusion of a three-year extension that made her the longest-serving president in Penn’s history.
Gutmann is one of the highest-paid college presidents in the country. She chaired President Barack Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, was named one of the top 50 global leaders by Fortune, and in 2018 was tapped as an Inquirer Business Hall of Fame Icon.