GROUP THINK is the DP’s round table section, where we throw a question at the columnists and see what answers stick. Read your favorite columnist, or read them all.
This week’s question: What is your opinion on Amy Gutmann's relationship with the student body?
Reid about it! | Amanda Reid
Oh Amy Gutmann, my favorite absentee president. Although she in no way engages on a deep level with her students, I do wonder to myself: how could she? As someone who is only able to reach out through public events, photo ops, commencement speeches and mass emails, she looms as a public leader, not a private one. In other words, she’s a figure that stands for something. Gutmann’s role is to exemplify an ideal of a campus that can check off the following: (a) integrity (b) tolerance (c) diversity and (d) academic rigor. As long as she doesn’t stray from mentioning these aspects in her emails at least once a month, she should be fine.
So when we talk about her relationship with the student body, we can’t talk about her governing or engaging with them without conceding that, well, she doesn't really. To me, she is the booming, bodiless voice of God that can only be heard through a listserv. And if I can mistake tall blondes in dress suits for Amy Gutmann every week, she should be forgiven for not remembering me (or any of us) either. Her job is not to answer to us but the Board of Trustees, so it’s purely administrative. Her job is to embody a face, not necessarily to speak to or for a community. It’s okay, Dr. Gutmann, I'll still open up those emails every week anyway.
Just Monking Around | Ashley Stinnett
I’m afraid I don’t know much about Amy Gutmann’s relationship with the student body, aside from that she holds dessert(?) receptions in her home on a (semesterly/yearly?) basis, there was controversy some time ago when she laid down during her holiday party when students took over protesting PILOT, and that she made a short speech during Hey Day.
I think that ultimately, she’s a university administrator whose interests lie in pleasing the Board of Trustees and the public about the reputation of the university. The students’ opinions of her matter insofar as donor parents are content enough to continue contributing to the endowment. To look at her engagement as an indication of how much the administration represents the interests of the students is a red herring; to cry “administration be damned” is similarly short-sighted. I have no idea about the inner-workings of fundraising, advertising, the Board of Trustees, etc. and the degree to which it impacts today’s Penn students, the degree to which Penn’s reputation impacts the future prospects of Penn alumni, the degree to which these inner-workings are nothing wasteful and pocket-lining. We’ve gotta look good to get the coin, it is true, but we’ve gotta do a little more digging beyond a president’s posturing to get any good dirt.
Keen on the Truth | Jeremiah Keenan
Dr. Gutmann’s job is to be a figurehead and to interact with donors. So she poses for pictures with undergrads, gives dull speeches, occasionally puts her name at the bottom of emails. Her other work seems mostly opaque to the student body. Should she be more involved? I see no particularly reason why. After all — for better or for worse — in a modern university the job of the president is not primarily to teach or work with students. These tasks are mostly accomplished by professors, with the president and the administration (hopefully) relieving them of the need to spend time on donors and red tape.
Small Talk | Alessandro van den Brink
There are more than 10,000 undergraduates currently at Penn, so to ask President Gutmann to have a personal relationship with even a quarter of those students is nearly impossible. After all, it’s not really in her job description. President Gutmann’s main role as a university president is to host fundraisers to bring in donations that help the school do what it needs to do for its students. In that regard, President Gutmann is doing fantastic work and while it certainly would be nice for students to engage directly with her more often, I don’t think the student body should feel disappointed in her. Much of the frustration aimed at her is usually due to misconceptions over what a university president’s responsibilities are.
Good Luck | Harrison Glicklich
The eighth President of the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Gutmann, is an internationally recognized leader in higher education. Under her leadership, Penn completed its largest, most successful fundraising effort in 2013, raising $4.3 billion through the Making History campaign. As the leader of Philadelphia's largest private employer, Dr. Gutmann heads one of the Commonwealth's most powerful economic engines, with an estimated total economic impact of $14 billion annually in Pennsylvania. As part of that impact, the University has made substantial and far-reaching investments in its own physical infrastructure. Penn's campus master plan, Penn Connects, has added nearly 4 million square feet of space to campus since 2006 while increasing open space on campus by 25 percent.
The Titus Touch | Titus Adkins
I think Amy Gutmann's relationship with the student body is not an atypical one. She is detached from the wants and needs of the student body, she only knows of stereotypical things across the college and university landscape nationally. "Diversity," "Equality" etc. However with the latter she has not been completely forthright with, as she has given statements on race that could be put into the category of "all lives matter" which in and of itself is problematic, as not all lives are being treated as though they do not matter. Not all lives are being threatened, as black lives have since the dawn of this country and continue to be.
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