If you look closely at University President Amy Gutmann's hands -- which, like any native New Yorker's, tend to flutter and dive through the air when she is intent on emphasizing a point -- you may catch a flash of red and blue on her right ring finger.
The sapphire and ruby band, which her husband designed to commemorate her nomination as president in January, now accompanies her wedding ring on her otherwise bare fingers, an appropriately symbolic pairing for a woman with a deep dedication to both her academic and personal lives.
"To do it all is a challenge. I think that's the greatest challenge probably," she says. But according to her friends and family, Gutmann has succeeded in balancing her roles as teacher, administrator, mother, wife and companion with the never-ending flow of energy and warmth that she seems to constantly exude. In essence, she does do it all, and still manages to do it well.
Buried amid books and office supplies in a cardboard box on the floor of room 308 in the Graduate School of Education, there is a picture of Gutmann and her former post-doctoral student Sigal Ben-Porath's 3-year-old daughter, Amalia.
When Ben-Porath -- who made the transition with Gutmann from Princeton to Penn on July 1 as her special assistant and a GSE research associate -- finally finishes unpacking, she says she will display the photograph beside the others that fill the shelf above her desk.
"He totally fell for her," Ben-Porath says of her other child's -- son Itamar's -- relationship with Gutmann. Itamar and Amalia often partake of Gutmann's famed secret-recipe French toast when they accompany their parents to brunch at the Gutmanns'.
Meet Amy Gutmann -- a woman who can debate about political philosophy with brilliant scholars one day, and "get into discussions of the American president with a 6-year-old" the next, according to Ben-Porath.
"She is able to relate to the widest range of people, because she's genuinely fascinated by what makes them tick," says Gutmann's husband Michael Doyle, a professor of both law and international and public affairs at Columbia University.
And no matter with whom she is sparking a conversation, "You never have a sense that you're being talked down to," says Gutmann's Chief of Staff Joann Mitchell, who also worked with her at Princeton for several years.
Gutmann's deep laugh -- which usually makes an appearance at least once during any encounter -- adds to her genuine persona.
"There's no theater, there's no presentation," says former Princeton professor Eva Gossman, who has known Gutmann for almost 30 years. "She really is spontaneous and open, and that's what she projects."
Gutmann's personality and mannerisms stem mainly from her small-town roots. Though she was "conceived in India and born in Brooklyn" -- and she can't suppress the giggle that rises from her chest as she notes the combination -- Gutmann grew up an only child in Monroe, N.Y., a small rural community an hour north of New York City.
Those close to her say that her family history has had a profound impact on the formation of her character. Her father fled Nazi Germany, eventually starting a scrap-metal business in New York, and her mother grew up poor during the Great Depression.
"Even though we didn't have a lot of money, my parents were very supportive of my education," Gutmann says. Her mother, who "wanted to be a school teacher but couldn't afford to go to college," instilled a sense of social responsibility in her, Doyle says.
She had "inherited commitments to ... create opportunities for people," he says of his wife.
Every hardship that Gutmann has had to deal with has shaped her outlook on life.
Doyle describes the "early death of her father" while Gutmann was a teenager as "a very severe blow."
"She had to acquire more independence a bit earlier than some young people do."
Rather than becoming embittered by the experience, Gutmann has developed into "an optimist tempered by realism," as friend and Chairwoman of the Comparative Literature Department at Princeton Sandra Bermann says.
"Life can deliver lots of tragedies, which are totally beyond your control," Gutmann says of her philosophy on life. Instead of dwelling on tragedy, Gutmann says she focuses on trying to "give back enough to the world and my family and friends, given how much I got from my parents."
After graduating as valedictorian of her public high school class, Gutmann went on to Harvard as an undergraduate.
"It was just the single greatest opportunity that I've had, only second to being president of Penn," she says. "I felt like the world opened to me."
Gutmann says she knew she wanted to be a teacher from the age of 5, and she entered Harvard as a math major, eventually switching to political science after a year.
"I was really interested in doing something directly to contribute to social justice, to the welfare of other people, and I couldn't very easily do that and just stay in pure math," she says.
Gutmann spent her undergraduate years taking classes, doing volunteer work and substitute-teaching at a local public school. After graduation, she attended the London School of Economics, before eventually returning to Harvard for graduate school, where she met Doyle.
In fact, in a recent appearance at a graduate student reception, Gutmann urged the audience to balance work with the social aspects of their environment, citing herself as proof that you can come away from graduate school with more than just a degree.
Now, Gutmann's daughter Abigail Doyle, the eventual product of what began as a graduate school romance, is actually attending Harvard graduate school herself.
"There's a lot of Amy in her," Mitchell says of Abby. Though Abby is currently working on her chemistry Ph.D. in Boston, the family remains tight-knit.
"They have this fabulous family -- you just see this sort of dynamic that works between the three of them," Mitchell says.
Though Doyle describes his wife and himself as "active parents" with fast-paced academic careers, Gutmann says they managed to balance the responsibilities of work and home.
"My top priority has always been my child," she says. "I don't think I ever felt that I was sacrificing on either end ... but I can't say it was easy."
Friends say that, in addition to the help of a nanny, Gutmann's perspective on life is what really enabled her to successfully tackle the dual role of mother and professional.
"I think she has a really clear sense of what's important and she'll always come back to that," Bermann says.
Citing Gutmann's vivacious nature, Gossman said that Gutmann "can accomplish a lot of things in a nanosecond."
Illustrative of Gossman's observation is an aspect of Gutmann's work habits that is well known among her colleagues -- her impeccably clean desk.
"Things get in, she solves them and they get out," Ben-Porath says of Gutmann's style in the office, noting that her desk usually has only one or two documents positioned neatly on top of it.
Gutmann's organizational obsession stems back to her childhood days.
"Her mother once told me that she used to sharpen her pencils for elementary school sometime in August," Doyle says. In all her years of schooling, "she almost never has missed a deadline," he added.
But her intense work ethic is balanced by her laid-back sense of humor.
"She likes to make jokes and little puns -- sort of in the spur of the moment," Mitchell says. "She'll laugh at herself just as easily as she'll laugh at" someone else.
Though Gutmann says her favorite foods are caviar and ice cream, Mitchell says that she has a hidden soft spot for the colored, sugar-coated marshmallow bunnies known as Peeps.
Explaining that there were some Peeps in the office at Princeton, Mitchell says the administrators had planned on giving them away to some students ... until Gutmann spotted them.
"Amy was like, "Ooh, Peeps. ... I love these things,'" Mitchell says, adding it was funny to see the provost "marching around munching on these Peep-things."
But when serious events occur, friends say you can count on Gutmann to go out of her way to be supportive.
"I had a child that was very ill," Bermann recalls. "I remember calling her, and she was in the [Princeton] president's office at the time, and she just stopped everything to just talk to me and help me through this."
Friends say thoughtful gestures -- like recently taking the time to send an orchid to a colleague from Princeton who was undergoing radiation therapy -- demonstrate Gutmann's devotion to those close to her.
"You might have forgotten her birthday, but she hasn't forgotten yours," Mitchell says, noting that Gutmann's attention to detail makes those around her feel appreciated and cared for.
How Gutmann manages to keep tabs on every aspect of her immensely complicated life remains a mystery to many.
"I suspect she never sleeps, but she says it's not true," Ben-Porath jokes.
Though the number of hours of shut-eye that Gutmann gets a night remains unknown, she did reveal what she does with the free moments that pop up in between her busy schedule.
"I'm an amateur photographer," she says, also professing her love for theater and movies.
"I can remember every single Broadway show I've seen since I was tiny," she says, noting that Wicked is on her current list of must-see shows.
And though Gutmann subscribes to netflix.com, she says she has already seen most of the films in its online library.
At the session of the Penn Reading Project discussion that she led, Gutmann handed out copies of The Roots' CD entitled The Tipping Point, which coincidentally bears the same name as the PRP book for this year.
"My favorite rock group now is The Roots," she says, adding that she is excited to hear them perform at her pre-inauguration bash on Oct. 13.Comments powered by Disqus
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