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Penn to extend president Gutmann through 2019

The University of Pennsylvania's Board of Trustees gave president Amy Gutmann a big vote of confidence on Tuesday, announcing that it will extend her contract for a third five-year term.

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann will receive a third five-year term. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann will receive a third five-year term. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read more

The University of Pennsylvania's Board of Trustees gave president Amy Gutmann a big vote of confidence on Tuesday, announcing that it will extend her contract for a third five-year term.

Gutmann, 62, who took the helm at Penn in 2004, would become the second-longest-serving president in the university's history at the conclusion of the contract in June 2019. The longest-serving, Gaylord Harnwell, led the university for 17 years, until 1970.

University officials declined to release her current salary or terms of the extension, typical for a private university. Gutmann was paid $1.32 million in 2009-10 - the most recent figure available through public tax forms, ranking her 20th in the nation in compensation at private universities, according to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gutmann oversees both the university and its major health system, collectively more than a $6 billion enterprise.

The board's decision comes more than two years before Gutmann's current five-year pact is to expire and just a few days before the university is to celebrate commencement and alumni weekend, drawing a large crowd to campus.

In her eight years at Penn, Gutmann has been credited with expanding access to more students with the university's no-loan financial-aid packages that provide students with grants based on need. She has increased interdisciplinary teaching, added more than 100 specialized faculty, and last year launched a plan to increase the diversity of the faculty.

Gutmann also led a successful $3.5 billion fund-raising campaign, reaching the goal 16 months early despite its occurring amid one of the worst economic downturns in the university's history. The university's largest gift ever - $225 million from Ray and Ruth Perelman in 2011 - was received during that campaign.

But most important, she is recognized for managing one of the largest systems in the city in a steady, unflappable, and decisive manner - allowing few crises to reach public attention, proponents say.

Even perhaps her biggest public controversy - when a student attending her 2006 Halloween party snapped a picture of himself dressed as a suicide bomber with Gutmann, who had donned the costume of Glinda, the good witch in The Wizard of Oz - faded relatively quickly.

"We think Amy Gutmann is the best university president in the country," David L. Cohen, chairman of the board of trustees, said in an interview. "She's a very effective communicator. She listens. She takes advice. She makes decisions and she executes on those decisions."

Conversations on the extension began over the last few months, Cohen said. It's not unusual to act so early, he said, noting that a presidential search at an Ivy League institution such as Penn can take 12 to 18 months and the board would have had to launch the process in the coming year if Gutmann were going to leave.

The trustees similarly acted early in granting Gutmann's second five-year term in October 2007 - 20 months ahead of time.

Keeping an effective president in place for such a lengthy term, Cohen added, helps with faculty retention, recruitment, and fund-raising.

The trustees will formally vote on the extension in June but already have informally signed on, he said.

In a telephone interview, Gutmann said she welcomed the opportunity to continue to lead Penn. "The university has tremendous momentum, and none of us want to slow it down," she said.

Gutmann said she will continue looking for ways to expand access to the university to a wider pool of students.

Her fund-raising efforts also are likely to continue. Under her leadership, the university this week announced it had closed on a $25 million gift for a new center to focus on the treatment and prevention of certain types of hereditary cancers.

She has continued efforts to further connect the university toward Center City, most recently overseeing the opening of the 24-acre Penn Park.

Gutmann came to Penn from Princeton, where she had been provost. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard-Radcliffe College. She earned her master's in political science from the London School of Economics and her doctorate, also in political science, from Harvard.

Several educators and deans at Penn said they were pleased to have the stability in leadership, given Gutmann's success.

"This is unmitigated good news," said Dennis DeTurck, dean of the college of arts and sciences. "... In a way, her agreeing to stay on for another term is a statement of confidence in the institution."

Richard Gelles, dean of the school of social policy and practice, cited Gutmann's seemingly endless supply of energy. In addition to leading Penn, she chairs President Obama's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She also recently released her 16th book, The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It, which she co-authored with Harvard professor Dennis Thompson.

"I don't know how the heck she got to do a book. I don't know how you have the time to read a book," Gelles said.

Camille Z. Charles, outgoing faculty senate chair and professor of sociology, said Gutmann has worked on areas that are vitally important to faculty, such as increasing access to the university to more students, fund-raising, and diversifying the faculty.

"She's had a very clear set of goals and initiatives, and she has worked tirelessly at getting those things accomplished," said Charles, who is also director of the Center for Africana Studies at Penn. "The faculty looks forward to continuing to work with her."