From cooking to raising a child, Judith Rodin leads a life outside of her role as Penn's president. and Catherine Lucey It's not surprising that Judith Rodin sleeps only four or five hours a night. Her career demands it. Waking up at 6 a.m. each day to a freshly delivered copy of The New York Times, Rodin's days -- from beginning to end -- are filled with meetings with the provost, the executive vice president, deans, potential donors and students to develop extensive academic and campus planning strategies. So much so that Rodin hardly has a free minute to read a good book or chat on the telephone with a friend. Still, at 54 years old, Rodin insists that hers is the good life and she is certainly not hiding the fact that she is a university president. In fact, every decoration in her home -- located at 3812 Walnut Street -- tells just that. From framed photos of her own inauguration at Penn to pictures of parades marched in her honor, the amenities that make it onto Rodin's walls each, in some way, represent the chronology of her life. But the one thing that becomes clear when speaking with Rodin is that despite the demanding nature of her job as the chief executive officer of the University and the overseer of the Penn Health System, she is a full-fledged mom in the meantime. And at the end of her lengthy working day, Rodin returns to Eisenlohr Hall where she resides with her 17-year-old son Alex Niejelow, her husband -- who splits his time between Philadelphia and the couple's home in New York City ---- and their dog, Butterfinger. With her son currently on frequent college tours up and down the East Coast, Rodin says the two are very close, emphasizing that she will miss their Scrabble tournaments, political debates and occasional late movie at the nearby Cinemagic once the high school junior goes off to college. Though Niejelow has watched his mother direct a revival of the West Philadelphia area -- anchored by the $120 million Sansom Common project and the planned Robert Redford-run Sundance Cinemas complex -- he says he is sometimes overwhelmed by the magnitude of her work. "I went away to camp and you got a bookstore," Niejelow quipped to his mother. And Rodin countered, "You can only imagine what will happen when you go to college -- I'll build the Taj Mahal." Though her initiatives often fall on a grandiose scale, Rodin says she has had to sacrifice the little things, admitting that the role of president -- through all of its satisfying attributes -- does have its setbacks. Above all else, the highest paid woman in the Ivy League has had to sacrifice her social life. When she dines at the downtown hotspot Buddakan, it's usually for a business meeting, and when she and husband Paul Verkuil attend the opera, it's usually to nab a potential donor. Casual telephone conversations are a thing of the past, as Rodin doesn't even have "half an hour to talk to someone on the phone." "Your role changes when you're president -- it's hard to hang out with the girls," Rodin explained, adding that "I miss it because I valued the closeness of a lot of my female friendships." Even the time she spends with her husband is far from stress-free. She and Verkuil -- who serves as dean of the Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York City -- often spend quality time in her study, seated at desks facing each other while finishing up work from the office. Verkuil is Rodin's third husband, confidante, tennis mate and New York Times reading partner. "We're addicted to the news. Since we like sharing a lot, we report on different sections of the paper to each other," Verkuil said. "But she always grabs the front section first." Married at the Carlisle Hotel in New York City five years ago, Rodin and Verkuil are reliant now on weekly visits, weekends and summers. "I think it works out fine," Verkuil said. "We've learned to get the benefits of this and each focus hard on what we're doing -- oh, and of course we talk on the phone at night." When Rodin has rare moments of free time, she tries to make room in her schedule for hobbies that include reading, tennis and cooking. "There are very few things in my life that you can both begin and end and cooking is one of them," Rodin said matter-of-factly. "I still make a great chili." And while the kitchen oven may be turned off most of the time, Rodin -- who just finished the latest Toni Morrison novel -- has had the heat burning full blast throughout her academic career. Entering Penn in 1962 as a freshman, Judith Seitz planned to major in French. But after an introductory course with Psychology Professor Henry Gleitman, Rodin said she was "tremendously turned on" to the field. She went on to earn a graduate degree from Columbia University and achieve awards for her studies of health psychology and body image while serving as a psychology professor at Yale University and later as the school's dean and then provost. "Unlocking the mystery of human behavior has been fascinating," she said. Gleitman, who Rodin credits as the catalyst of her academic career, praised Rodin's intellectual prowess and dedication to Penn. "You never know who's gonna become a Stephen Hawkins or an Albert Einstein. Mozarts are rare -- people who show it at age four," Gleitman said. "But I remember writing when she was an undergraduate, 'I think she has the flame.'" He added, "She could probably run the entire damn electric system of Philadelphia." Indeed, Rodin's academic pursuits have not gone unnoticed. Her fellow Penn alumnus and student government leader, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, praised Rodin's initiatives at Penn and suggested that a political career may be in her future. "I think she would have been a dynamite candidate to run for mayor and I told her that," said Rendell, admitting that when he suggested the idea Rodin entertained it for only about "a second and a half." Yet Rodin -- who headed the Women's Student Government in her undergraduate days and was named in September as one of the top 20 potential female presidential candidates by the White House Project, a group dedicated to procuring a female president by the year 2008 -- says she is not tempted to think about what will be next for her. What she made clear, though, is that she is not planning to leave Penn any time soon. "I'm enjoying this and I think there's a lot left to do," she said. The one future plan she admitted to was one of teaching and writing novels that have a psychological twist. "I always thought that would be a fascinating career," Rodin said. "But I can't see a life of true retirement. I can and will teach."Comments powered by Disqus
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