Amy Gutmann’s lifelong dedication to the transformative power of education is captured in a favorite riddle. “What’s the difference between a scrap metal dealer and an Ivy League university president?” she’ll sometimes ask an audience. Her answer comes straight from the heart: “One generation.”
That scrap metal dealer was Gutmann’s father, who fled Nazi Germany, eventually emigrating to the United States. Hard work and need-based scholarships enabled his daughter to access a world-class education which, says Gutmann, “utterly transformed my life. It made educational opportunity the driving force and the absolute defining mission of my life.”
Beginning in 2004 as the University of Pennsylvania’s eighth president, Gutmann immediately set about growing student financial support and bolstering inclusion, innovation, and impact as cornerstones of her strategic vision, which she named the Penn Compact. That concept, holding true after her honorable departure from Penn in February 2022 to become the next U.S. ambassador to Germany, expresses and guides the commitment of a world-class urban research and teaching University to improve the lives of individuals and communities, locally, nationally, and globally.
Opening doors, transforming lives: Extraordinary affordability and access
In 2008, Gutmann made the historic decision to go all-grant in undergraduate financial aid, making Penn one of the largest of only a small number of universities to offer outright grants rather than loans to all aided students, based on need. As a result, it costs students receiving aid 19 percent less to attend Penn today (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than it did at the start of Gutmann’s tenure, nearly 18 years ago. To make this possible, Penn more than tripled its undergraduate aid budget, growing from $84 million to $259 million annually and awarding some $2.6 billion to students over the course of Gutmann’s presidency.
Today, nearly 80 percent of traditional undergraduates leave Penn debt-free and the lives of tens of thousands of students and their families have been transformed for the better. Pioneering initiatives such as Penn First Plus—a comprehensive support system for first-generation and low-income students—propel the success of all students. Applications for admission have grown exponentially in quantity and in every dimension of quality, with a record-breaking 56,333 applications to join the Class of 2025. Penn’s selectivity for the Class of 2005 was 21 percent; it is about 5.7 percent for the Class of 2025. Most meaningfully for increasing educational opportunity, the proportion of students in Penn’s entering class who are low-income, those who are first-generation, and those who identify as minorities all more than doubled over Gutmann’s presidency.
Seizing the present, building the future: Game-changing innovation and inclusion
Within a year of her arrival, Gutmann jumpstarted a University-wide drive to maximize the innovative, life-changing discoveries emanating from Penn. She launched an unprecedented faculty initiative—Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professorships (PIK)—to leverage the University’s considerable strengths in the liberal arts and sciences and the professions. That effort has brought renowned multi-disciplinary scholars to Penn who thrive at the intersection of multiple fields with joint appointments across two or more schools. To date Penn has named 28 PIK Professors, each of whom shares a fundamental commitment to solving complex, real-world problems by working across disciplinary boundaries.
Gutmann herself models this commitment with acclaimed scholarship that addresses timely issues including the perils of political polarization and the role of compromise in democracy, the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship, and the benefits of equitable access to health care and education. During her presidency, she has published numerous articles and two books—the most recent on bioethics (co-authored with PIK Professor Jonathan Moreno) with an afterword on Pandemic Ethics. Gutmann remains one of the most widely cited political scientists and theorists of our time.
Gutmann spearheaded the creation of an innovation ecosystem for Penn, Philadelphia, and beyond by transforming technology transfer at Penn to be both more faculty- and industry-friendly. In the depths of the Great Recession, she had the foresight to purchase a 23-acre abandoned land parcel and lost no time in converting it into a vibrant hub for innovation that anchors Philadelphia’s Lower Schuylkill Innovation District. Gutmann branded it Pennovation Works. As importantly, she created the Penn Center for Innovation, which expertly aids Penn faculty in advancing paradigm-changing—and often life-saving—Penn discoveries. Life-saving historic innovations by Penn faculty have included CAR T therapy, the first-ever FDA-approved gene treatment for cancer, and the mRNA technology that lies at the heart of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. While annual commercialization agreements numbered in the single digits before Gutmann’s presidency, in fiscal year 2021, Penn executed 746 commercial agreements, generated more than $300 million in commercialization revenue, and garnered 142 patents. Today, Penn proudly acknowledges its ranking by Reuters as one of the most innovative universities in the world. Building off of this booming momentum, Gutmann announced in November 2021 that the University would invest $750 million in novel therapeutics and health-related initiatives; energy and sustainability; data engineering and science; and infrastructure to support physical science research.
The spirit of innovation for Gutmann begins with Penn’s students. Most notable among many campus opportunities that advance a student culture of putting knowledge to work for good in the world are the President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize, and the more recently announced President’s Sustainability Prize. The $100,000 President’s Prizes—the largest of their kind in higher education—are awarded to fund student-initiated non-profit and for-profit enterprises with the greatest potential for transforming lives for the better. Recipients are graduating Penn seniors who immediately take a path less traveled or make one, and many have already won major national and international awards.
Gutmann’s Penn Compact also spearheaded increasing eminence and innovation among Penn’s faculty and leadership through greater inclusion. “The great challenge of moving the needle on diversity and inclusion within our institutions could not be more urgent,” Gutmann said. Under Penn’s Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence—a more than $100 million investment—the number of underrepresented racial minorities on the standing faculty grew by 53 percent and the number of women faculty grew by 33 percent at the same time as the faculty grew by 12 percent. Inspiring generous donor support across Penn’s 12 distinguished schools and its health system, Gutmann has created and named 75 Presidential and Presidential Distinguished Professors, prestigious appointments for recruiting and retaining diverse and eminent scholars.
Penn under Gutmann’s leadership has also strengthened efforts to advance racial equity and social justice within and beyond campus, causes for which Gutmann has been a lifelong advocate. Among many such initiatives was Gutmann’s creation of the Office of Social Equity and Community, led by Penn’s first-ever Vice President for Social Equity and Community. Penn’s Projects for Progress, announced in 2020, provide $100,000 grants for student-, staff-, and faculty-designed proposals to reduce systemic racism, achieve educational equity, and reduce health disparities. She also named Penn’s first Chief Diversity Officer. Gutmann was a lead sponsor of “Changing the National Conversation: Inclusion and Equity” that brought more than 100 presidents and provosts from across the country to Penn for candid and consequential conversations. Penn’s work to advance equity is evidence of Gutmann’s abiding belief that inclusion is essential to moving Penn from excellence to eminence.
A global model: Building a preeminent campus and empowering community
It wasn’t enough to make Penn more affordable, inclusive, and innovative. Gutmann had a goal to ensure the University’s urban campus also embodied its strong international reputation. To that end, Gutmann set about an unprecedented physical transformation aptly called Penn Connects. An ambitious 30-year campus plan was realized in half that time: 8.6 million square feet of new construction, 3.4 million square feet of renovations, and 30 acres of new open space, representing an investment of $6.8 billion.
These capital improvements have created a paradigm-shifting model of a vibrant, sustainable, and innovative urban university that is deeply connected to its local community while generating far-reaching global perspectives. An astounding array of signature projects range from the transformation of an urban parking lot into Penn Park, a vibrant 24-acre green space open to the public with signature Penn athletics and recreational facilities; to the landmark Singh Center for Nanotechnology; to a new student residential quad on Hill Field with the addition of Lauder College House, renovation of Hill House, and a new student-performing arts building in progress; to the New College House that enables all sophomores to live on campus (for the first time in Penn’s history); to landmark science buildings in progress (Data Science, recently named Amy Gutmann Hall), and the Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology); to the largest and surely most impactful building project in Penn’s history, the 1.5 million square foot, $1.6 billion Pavilion—designed from the patients’ perspective—that is already charting the course of 21st century medicine. This is just a fraction of award-winning spaces that make Penn’s campus such an irresistible magnet for talent, an essential economic engine, and a life-saving resource for its community. Gutmann was the first Ivy League president to sign the President’s pledge to climate sustainability, and Penn has made significant progress toward becoming carbon neutral by 2042, with every new and renovated building designed for energy sustainability. Given Penn’s institutional goals related to combating climate change, Gutmann announced in November 2021 that Penn would be ceasing any new commitments to private equity vehicles dedicated to investments in fossil fuel production.
Leading by example, Gutmann has staunchly defended free speech while also adamantly condemning bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination, making it clear that both open expression and mutual respect are essential to an inclusive community dedicated to the pursuit of truth. She has championed Penn as an outward-looking, world-embracing, global leader. In selecting Gutmann as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” in 2018, Fortune applauded her being a “vocal backer of international students and immigrants.” The University’s goal, in Gutmann’s words, is to “bring the world to Penn and bring Penn to the world.” Among her marquee achievements in global impact are the creation of Perry World House, an on-campus hub for international engagement, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C., and the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing.
Penn Medicine has become a world-renowned leader in patient care as well as life-saving discoveries. Penn’s health system has exponentially expanded in its size and service to diverse populations with the addition of Lancaster General Health System, Chester County Hospital and Health System, and Princeton HealthCare System.
Decision-making across divides has been key to Penn’s success and a unifying theme of Gutmann’s scholarship, teaching, and leadership. Her philosophy of educating the whole person for citizenship, service, and wellness—guided by values and evidence—led her to create Penn’s SNF Paideia Program, dedicated to teaching all students the skills and attitudes essential to respectful and productive understanding across differences. To model such respectful understanding, Penn’s faculty has welcomed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Vice President Joe Biden as Presidential Practice Professors (the latter leaving Penn to run for President in 2020). While chairing President Obama’s Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Gutmann also put democratic deliberation into practice. The diverse commission conducted all of its deliberation in public and issued 10 unanimous advisory reports on complex issues including testing vaccines and responding to pandemics.
Under Gutmann’s presidency, Penn’s local engagement in Philadelphia became deeper and broader than ever, spanning Penn’s 12 schools, six resource centers, and its administrative divisions. Over a third of the faculty in Penn’s Graduate School of Education—the top-ranked education school in the nation—work with Philadelphia schools, and education students and staff are now involved in 400 activities in 250 schools. Gutmann extended and strengthened partnerships with two of Penn’s neighborhood schools: the Blue-Ribbon award-winning Penn Alexander School and the Henry C. Lea School. In 2020, she committed the largest gift in the history of the School District of Philadelphia—$100 million—to abate lead, asbestos, and other environmental hazards throughout the city’s public schools. Another major landmark contribution in 2020 turned around a dying safety-net hospital, Mercy Philadelphia, located in an underserved area of West Philadelphia. When a for-profit venture threatened to end the essential services provided at Mercy, Penn Medicine stepped up with an innovative collaboration among local non-profits that will provide more and better safety-net and behavioral health services.
The future is wide open: A revolutionary University leading for good
The dramatic transformations during Gutmann’s presidency have been supercharged by two record-breaking capital campaigns, Making History and the Power of Penn, raising $9.7 billion, making possible record levels of support for graduate, professional, and undergraduate financial aid and innovative faculty research. The University’s endowment has quintupled, from $4.1 billion to $20.5 billion, making it among the fastest growing of the nation’s 10 largest university endowments. With robust finances and global renown, Penn is now significantly more affordable and accessible, more diverse and excellent, more innovative and impactful, and more engaged at home and around the world than ever before.
Gutmann credits the ardent dedication and unwavering support of the entire Penn community and her talented leadership team with these impressive achievements. Their mettle was put to the ultimate stress test with the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Gutmann and her leadership team deftly steered an enormous urban university and health system through the greatest global health crisis in generations. Penn Medicine served at the forefront of Philadelphia’s pandemic response and Penn Professors Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó pioneered the technology that made the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines possible. Throughout, Gutmann focused the Penn community on being resourceful, resilient, and responsive to everyone’s needs—a leadership philosophy of solidarity in service of core values and an animating spirit of knowledge-based action, which is key to how truly great universities always serve individuals and societies, not just in times of pandemic and crisis.
“You see it in the dreams come true of our talented students. And you see it in the life-changing breakthroughs of our brilliant faculty,” is how Gutmann described it when she received the revered Pennsylvania Society’s highest recognition: its coveted Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement. In contemplating the untold possibilities awaiting Penn’s unsurpassed students, staff, and faculty, Gutmann captured in a single sentence this unique moment in the University’s history. “At Penn,” she declared with earned—and earnest—heartfelt confidence, “the future truly is wide open.”
Amy Gutmann was confirmed United States Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany on Feb. 8, 2022.
Homepage image: Gutmann is pictured guest teaching in an Academically Based Community Service course at Penn in early 2020. In addition to being president, Gutmann has served as the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Communication in the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn.