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Penn Commencement 2010 Credit: Melanie Lei

A Penn alumnus could end up as the next president of the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., who graduated from Penn in 1987, informed the White House Monday that he will resign from his post.

According to Politico, his resignation has fueled speculation that he may be preparing for a Republican presidential run in 2012.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Huntsman wrote that he plans to step down from his ambassadorship on April 30.

The New York Times' "The Caucus" blog reported that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the presidential staff was aware of Huntsman’s plans to leave his post in 2011.

Huntsman served as ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993 and was elected governor of Utah in 2004 and 2008. Obama appointed Huntsman ambassador to China in May 2009 — a move considered by some analysts as an attempt to keep Huntsman from running for office in 2012.

Professors at Penn are split over whether Huntsman’s resignation indicates plans for a presidential run.

“It’s a tough call — most ambassadors last about three years, so his tenure would have been up for renewal,” Annenberg School for Communication professor Alvin Felzenberg said. “But I think this might be a way to explore the possibility” of a presidential run, he added.

Penn political science professor Avery Goldstein wrote in an e-mail that the only certainty is “Huntsman decided that it was time for him to move on to the next phase in his life of public service.”

“He could decide to make a run for president in 2012,” Goldstein wrote. “But he is young enough that he could instead decide that it would be prudent to wait until 2016 or even 2020. One possibility is that he might consider running for Senate in 2012 and then leave his options open for a future presidential run.”

Penn political science professor Marc Meredith was more confident in what the move means. “There are always some other things it could mean, but I think it’s pretty likely he’s actively going to plan to run for president,” Meredith said.

He is less confident, however, in whether Huntsman — considered a moderate — would be able to win a Republican primary election. “I’m a bit of a skeptic that he’d be [able to] overcome the barriers of name recognition and being in tune with the GOP base,” he continued.

Felzenberg disagreed, believing Huntsman could be “very competitive.” His past as a businessman, governor and ambassador “satisfies a number of needs in the party,” Felzenberg said.

Huntsman’s father, Jon M. Huntsman Sr., is the namesake of Huntsman Hall.

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