For President Gutmann, Princeton's Tilghman a lasting influence

Ivy League leadership has gone through a shakeup with several upcoming presidential departures

· October 9, 2012, 10:51 pm

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The link between Penn President Amy Gutmann and Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman runs deeper than a fierce basketball rivalry between the two schools.

Last month, Tilghman announced that she will be stepping down from her position in June. When Tilghman assumed her presidency in 2001, one of her first administrative actions was to appoint Gutmann as the school’s provost.

Gutmann, at the time, was a professor in the school’s Department of Politics and had also served as Princeton’s dean of faculty and an academic adviser to the president. Gutmann left Princeton in 2004 to replace then-Penn President Judith Rodin, who had served at the helm of the University for a decade.

“There’s nothing that replaces experience, so it gave me great experience,” Gutmann said of her time working as provost under Tilghman. “It prepared me well for Penn. The great thing is that as provost, I was in on everything so I really got a sense of everything that a president does and got a sense very close up of that.”

Vice President of Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell, who served as vice provost for administration under Gutmann at Princeton, believes that Tilghman and Gutmann share a similar leadership style.

“They’re both really good at listening carefully to what other people have to say,” she said. “They both have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and are very willing and able to articulate that vision.”

She added that seeing Tilghman and Gutmann working together was an “instructive process” because she “could see the value of a … true partnership where they valued each other’s insights and perspectives and expertise that they brought to the table.”

Similar to Gutmann’s push at Penn to broaden access to higher education, Tilghman has increased the number of students eligible for financial aid, as well as the average financial aid package at Princeton. The Princeton president also oversaw a $1.88 billion fundraising campaign that ended in June. At the close of the academic year, Tilghman will take a year off, after which she plans to return to teach at the university.

Tilghman, however, isn’t the only one relinquishing her position as the head of an Ivy League school. In the past year, former Brown University President Ruth Simmons and Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim have stepped down from their roles, and Yale University President Richard Levin has announced that he will step down at the end of this academic year.

In a letter addressed to the Princeton community, Tilghman cited a “natural rhythm to university presidencies” that helped guide her recent announcement.

Mitchell agreed that such a “rhythm” exists, and said that new leadership can help an institution take a step back and assess its progress and goals.

“Having some new fresh perspectives and ideas being brought to the table in terms of the Ivy League group — I think that’s incredibly healthy and helps ensure that we continue to innovate and … figure out how we can be at the top of our game,” she said.

For Gutmann, the various changes in the Ivy leadership have led her to reflect on her own goals.

“The lesson that this underscores for me is that every president has to know for herself or himself what the right length of term is,” said Gutmann, who received a contract extension through June 2019 over the summer. “You measure that by what your goals are and how many more goals you think you have to reach and whether you have the team and the momentum to keep moving forward.”

With the major changing of the guards in Ivy League leadership, Gutmann will also soon become the second-longest-tenured president in the group, trailing only Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who began serving in 2002.

“Experience and knowledge make a difference,” Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Lees said. “We have a superb president and I think her strong influence among her peers is going to continue.”

At just over 11 years, the average tenure of the four Ivy League presidents who have recently announced their plans to step down is longer than the national average of seven years for private university presidents, according to the Council of Independent Colleges.

“Ivies have long-term presidents because we are institutions that have been around for so many hundreds of years that we have long-term visions,” Gutmann said. “Presidents recognize that and we realize that, in order to really move the institution forward, serving 10-plus years helps.”

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