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Amy Gutmann: Penn’s long-serving president seeks to bridge the divide | Industry Icons

Gutmann's current contract runs through 2022, which would give her 18 years at Penn's helm and make her the longest-serving president in the university's history.

Amy Gutmann is in line to become the longest serving president of Penn. Her tenure has been marked by record fundraising, exponential endowment growth and increasing diversity, from the student body to the highest cabinet level. But the university also has faced criticism over mental health services and rising tuition costs.
Amy Gutmann is in line to become the longest serving president of Penn. Her tenure has been marked by record fundraising, exponential endowment growth and increasing diversity, from the student body to the highest cabinet level. But the university also has faced criticism over mental health services and rising tuition costs.Read moreElizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer

The Inquirer Business Hall of Fame is inducting six new honorees in an event set for Nov. 28 at the Hyatt at the Bellevue. The winners will be profiled this week at

Two years ago, as Joe Biden was preparing to leave his work as vice president, Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, enlisted him to lecture at the school and run a Washington-based center on diplomacy and global engagement.

But as a Harvard-educated political scientist who co-wrote the book The Spirit of Compromise, Gutmann didn't stop there.

"He's a phenomenal addition," Gutmann said of Biden, "but he does represent a large-D Democrat, and I thought, wouldn't it be great if there were somebody our students could learn from who is a large-R Republican?"

At a time when the country is perhaps more polarized than ever, and when college campuses have faced criticism as too left-leaning, universities should become the antidote — the model for more civil discourse, she believes.

So she reached out to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is son and brother to two former presidents. She got to know him when he chaired the National Constitution Center board and she was on the executive committee.

"He said he would be honored," Gutmann recalled. "And I said, no, we would be honored."

This fall, Bush joined Penn as a "presidential professor of practice," a position reserved for distinguished professionals, and last month gave his first talk to nearly 200 students on campus.

It's the kind of deft and deliberate leadership that the energetic, impeccably dressed, petite but mighty Gutmann — who is in line to become the longest-serving president in Penn's history — has exhibited since taking over in 2004.

"She's acutely aware of the criticism universities have received for being way, way, way too one-sided," said Wharton School graduate Lee Spelman Doty, a member of Penn's board of trustees and managing director of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York City.  "I think she has explained her philosophy very clearly, and she's acting on it."

David L. Cohen, the trustees board chair and senior executive vice president of Comcast Corp., has long said he considers Gutmann, 69, to be the best college president in the nation. She certainly is one of the highest paid. She earned $3.9 million in total compensation in 2016-17.

"Any topic you want to pick, that you want to judge the president of the University of Pennsylvania on, she has knocked the ball out of the park in every single one of them," Cohen said.

She's received several local and national awards in the last couple years, including being named one of the top 50 global leaders by Fortune.  Most recently, she's been named an Inquirer Business Hall of Fame Icon. The induction ceremony is set for the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Hyatt at the Bellevue.

Trustees in 2016 voted to extend her contract through June 2022, which would give her a record 18-year run.

"I think she's very, very well regarded," said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University, noting that she seems to have the general support of faculty, trustees and alumni. "I just don't hear anything negative."

She's overseen record fundraising and a more than tripling of the endowment. Gutmann has raised more than $7 billion — $4.3 billion in her first major campaign that concluded in 2012 and nearly $3 billion so far in her second campaign, which aims to bring in $4.1 billion by 2021.

The endowment stands at $13.8 billion, among the top 10 largest university endowments in the country.

Her job is comprehensive and sweeping. She oversees Penn's 12 schools, enrolling more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and its health system. Operating on a $9.2 billion budget, the highly selective university is the largest private employer in Philadelphia.

Under her leadership, Penn has completed major construction projects, including a nanotechnology center, the 24-acre Penn Park, and the $35 million Pennovation complex, an innovation hub along the south bank of the Schuylkill where entrepreneurs explore ideas. The university also opened the New College House, a seven-story, $127 million residence hall, with another being planned.

The health system has added three hospitals — in Lancaster, Princeton, and Chester County — and is putting up a 1.1 million-square-foot patient building, the Pavilion, that will be the largest building project in Penn history.

She's proud of her policy to expand access to a Penn education by doling out grants rather than loans to students in need, and often talks about her own experience as a first-generation college student. She also talks about her father, Kurt, who fled Nazi Germany and eventually settled in the United States. He died while Gutmann, an only child, math whiz, and class valedictorian, was still in Monroe-Woodbury High School in New York.

She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard-Radcliffe, then got her master's in political science from the London School of Economics in 1972 and her doctorate in political science from Harvard in 1976. She joined the faculty at Princeton and later became provost, the position she held when she was hired by Penn.

The key to great leadership, she said, "is not the great-man theory of history or great-woman theory. It is actually in having a great team."

Hers, she said, is made up of creative people who have different ideas and skills than her, who "think uniquely" but "stand united" behind Penn's core values.

And her philosophy on fund-raising isn't to ask for money but to demonstrate how it can make a difference.

"If you have and show that you can implement really important, inspiring programs and initiatives, great people will step up to the plate and fund them," Gutmann said.

That's what happened when she unveiled her plan to begin awarding "engagement" and "innovation" prizes of up to $150,000 apiece to outstanding seniors to spend the year after graduation working on nonprofit and commercial projects designed to improve the world. Three trustees immediately after hearing her presentation agreed to help fund the prizes.

Students have gone on to make a difference locally and abroad, including Shadrack Frimpong, who was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II  for his creation of a school for girls and a community health clinic in Ghana, his home country.

Gutmann has faced criticism over rising student costs — tuition, fees, and room and board this year top $71,000 — and cries that Penn, like the rest of the Ivy League,  isn't as accessible to low income students as it should be.

"I think she's done a lot of really good things for the university," said Joni E. Finney, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at Penn. "But if there were anything that I would be somewhat disappointed with, it would be the socioeconomic diversity of the student body."

According to a Harvard-based research institute, only 3.3 percent of Penn students come from families in the bottom 20 percent of income brackets, while 71 percent are from the top 20 percent.

Penn officials said in response that while the sticker price of a Penn education has risen, the net cost has decreased by 15 percent since she became president, because the university substantially increased its financial aid. They also note that the percentage of students from low-income families has increased.

Described by close associates as tough, even "steely," Gutmann prides herself on being a leader who does what she says she will. She is closely guarded, repeatedly denying media requests to shadow her for extended periods.

She has responded to concerns. In 2013, a group of senior faculty in the Africana studies department criticized her for failing to add leaders of color to her top administration. Penn has since appointed its first African American provost, Wendell Pritchett,  as well as an African American vice provost and two minority deans.

"I think that she responded the way I would have hoped, and this has remained a priority for her," said Camille Z. Charles, professor of sociology, Africana studies, and education.

The university also has increased diversity among faculty and the student body, and began admitting more first-generation students; now one in seven freshmen is first-generation, up from one in 20 when she started.

Addressing another concern — complaints that mental health services for students were lacking — the university this summer named an associate professor of clinical psychiatry as its first chief wellness officer. The university also announced that all sophomores would be required to live on campus, beginning with the freshman class entering in 2020, keeping them more connected to campus services.

Gutmann, whose husband, Michael W. Doyle, is a professor at Columbia University and whose daughter teaches at Princeton, manages to find time to get down on the floor and do yoga with her grandchildren, ages 3 and 5.

At work, her days are packed. Earlier this semester, she traveled to Beijing, Taipei, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to visit alumni. She also ate lunch with students on campus for "take your professor to lunch day." Later in October, she welcomed an auditorium of parents on family weekend.

And she introduced Bush when he made his first appearance as a new professor, calling him "a man of exceptional character who has committed his life to public service and civic engagement."

Cohen, the trustees chair, said Gutmann's recruitment of Bush and Biden "put an exclamation point" on Penn's long-standing commitment to support bipartisan discourse on campus.

Biden praised Gutmann as having "incredible vision and determination," and supported her decision to bring on Bush.

"We need to set an example for our future leaders about how to talk to one another — and, more importantly, disagree with one another — with respect," Biden said. "In a country as big and boisterous and diverse as ours, compromise is essential to being able to govern."

Gutmann got the idea after hosting Bush and Biden at a forum on immigration last February and asking them to take a moment on stage and craft a compromise on immigration. Bush noted the need to respect the rule of law and protect borders, perhaps with a new approach to enforcement using more technology, but said the solution is not in building a wall, as President Trump has proposed, to which Biden agreed. Biden said he would support allowing foreign graduates who earn their Ph.D.s at U.S. colleges to automatically stay in the country for seven years.

"Totally," Bush said.

And it went on like that.

"Sure enough, they did" find compromise, Gutmann said. "They still disagree about stuff, but they did, they absolutely did."