majors_of_penn_presidents

The most popular major among Penn presidents is English. | DP File Photo

If you want a building on Penn’s campus named after you, a near-certain way to achieve that is to become the president of the University. 

But the question remains: How do you become president of Penn?

Although there is no certain formula to become president, we can see what the presidents studied at school before moving into 3812 Walnut Street.

Short answer — if you want to become the president of Penn, don’t go to the School of Nursing. Only one former president, Claire Fagin, was a nurse, and she was an interim president.

And only two Wharton students have ever ascended to the presidency: William DuBarry, the acting president from January to June 1953, and Thomas Gates, president from 1930-1944.

The most popular major for Penn presidents? English. Three former Penn presidents studied English either in the undergraduate or postgraduate level before becoming the president of Penn.

There’s one mystery in the equation of presidential majors. It is unclear what Penn President Harold Stassen, who attended the University of Minnesota and later its law school, studied before he received his law degree.

“We’ve got to work on him,” Director of University Archives and Records Center Mark Lloyd said. He knows each of the presidents’ choice of studies by memory.

The undergraduate majors for all of the presidents are not on record because many attained more relevant postsecondary degrees.

Before 1939, the position of “President” hadn’t been created at Penn. The provost of the University performed the duties that the current provost and president now do separately.

The first twelve provosts — who were essentially the presidents of the time — of Penn only had one major: classical studies, the study of Latin and Greek.

“They were all Episcopalians, every one of them,” Lloyd said. “Why? Because Penn was a college of the religious right wing, and Episcopalians are the direct descendants of the Church of England.”

Even though factions of the country were opposed to English institutions, most members of elite society in early America were Episcopalian. Even though Penn is no longer religiously affiliated, the chaplain of the University was Episcopalian until 1996.

However, a classical studies major has not become president since 1910.

Penn's current president, Amy Gutmann, holds a doctorate in political science. The only question is, when will Gutmann Hall open?

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