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Credit: Lizzy Machielse

Penn President Amy Gutmann spoke with three Daily Pennsylvanian editors on Thursday in a sit-down interview in her College Hall office. Gutmann was flanked by Stephen MacCarthy, the vice president for University Communications, and Leah Popowich, a staffer in the President's Office. 

The interview was preceded by a 15-minute off the record portion before Gutmann took questions for around 30 minutes. The transcript of her exchange with the DP is below: 

Executive Editor Dan Spinelli: I’m sure you’ve seen the recent economic diversity report at Penn. One of the most glaring statistics when comparing approximately the Class of 2001 with the Class of 2013 was that, of students who entered Penn with parents in the bottom 40 percent, we only saw an increase of 0.5 percent of students from that category from the Class of 2001 and Class of 2013. Basically, the financial aid budget has increased every year recently under your term, but we haven’t seen economic diversity change much. Why would that be the case and what is Penn planning moving forward?

Penn President Amy Gutmann: We’ve gone from 2006, having one out of 20 of our students coming from first generation, to now having one out of eight of our students be first generation. We’ve gone from having 10 percent Pell Grant students to 14 percent Pell Grant students from 2006 to now. There’s a 40 percent increase.

We do consider economic diversity broader than Pell Grants and I think that’s really important. It’s been a very important theme of our work and my work to look at the underrepresentation. What The New York Times data shows — I’ve done work on this before even with the COFHE group [Consortium on Financing Higher Education] — is that we are underrepresented and we as Penn and all of our peer institutions — all of the Ivy Plus institutions — are underrepresented in four out of the five quintiles of American income distribution. In other words, we’re overrepresented in the top quintile and underrepresented in all four.

It’s very important for us to continue to make progress for low and middle-income students. We have made some progress. We want to make more. We are need-blind in our admissions and need-based in our financial aid, so over the times that The New York Times data covers, it was toward the end of that time that we went “all-grant.” That time ends with the Class of 2013, so that data — I don’t know how that data would look now — but it’s about six to seven years old, because our last incoming class is 2020. But, we’ve made progress have more work to do.

Some of the striking findings of that data are that — and really show, and it’s what I’ve done before — is that we need to make progress, not only on low-income, but on low- and middle-income students. We absolutely are committed to full financial aid once we admit students and we’ve done more and more outreach as well.

SPINELLI: All of that is stuff we currently do. Is there anything in the future that will be announced or will be released in addition to what we currently have offered?

GUTMANN: We have done more and more. We have done outreach. We have more Questbridge students. We’ve done The Knowledge Partnership. We’re also doing, just last year, we started a First Gen center at Penn at the Greenfield Intercultural Center. That has been a terrific partnership with our first generation students and we definitely will want to do more as we move forward. That’s just begun. You can see — we’ve more than doubled the number of first generation students.

The other really striking finding in that New York Times report is how much we do give, not only but significantly to the lowest income students, but also to all those four quartiles of students who come and graduate at 90-plus percent graduation, they go on to be in the top quintile of income distribution according to that study. And that squares with everything we know so we really are a way of — that’s not the only thing we provide — but we do provide a kind of upward mobility that makes what we do all the more valuable.

SPINELLI: I wanted to ask about the recent announcement that tuition would increase by just under 4 percent in line with previous years and in line with our peer institutions but again outpacing the rate of inflation. My question for you is as tuition keeps increasing — I believe in 10 years it’s estimated it will probably cross $100,000 per year. Is there any worry about the effect that will have on middle class families?

GUTMANN: So as we have increased tuition we’ve done our very best to keep the rate of increase as low as possible consistent with providing high quality education and research here and a great faculty. As we’ve done that we have more than doubled financial aid. That means that whenever any student has demonstrated financial need we cover it. So as tuition goes up financial aid goes up even more. And that’s been our, it’s a very, we moderate tuition growth as much as we can. We subsidize the direct cost of a Penn education for everybody, including full-paying students. And we cover the middle class, there is, we cover the middle class in our financial aid. About half of our students are on financial aid, about half of those students come from families under $100,000, which means a quarter of our student body are students from families earning under $100,000 and about a quarter of our student body and half of the students on financial aid come from families earning above $100,000.

SPINELLI: As you saw yesterday, another Penn student passed away and multiple media outlets in Hong Kong were reporting that this is another suicide, so this would be the 13th Penn student in the last 4 years who has died by suicide. [It is actually the 12th student.] And given that he was on a leave of absence when he passed away and knowing that students have voiced concerns about leave of absence policy, which is something we’ve also reported on, you do have to apply to Penn after going on a leave of absence. It’s often very stressful for students who may not want to leave Penn given potentially their situation at home. And I’m curious if you plan to adjust at all the leave of absence policy to make it easier for students who would like to leave or wouldn’t like to take a leave to make that decision themselves.

[Gutmann asked to go off the record.]

Senior News Editor Sydney Schaedel: We have done some reporting also about this task force that was formed after the protests around the OZ emails that were outed. And we were just wondering if this focus, and this VPUL event that we co-hosted there was a lot of emphasis about how this was about off-campus groups in particular. And we were wondering if that focus ignores sexist behavior that can happen in on-campus groups as well.

GUTMANN: Absolutely not. It doesn’t ignore that. It takes into account, and I applaud you by the way on co-sponsoring the forum. It takes into account and the task force is charged with looking at what the University can do to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can do to make the climate the best for minimizing sexual assault and harassment and for being the most conducive to healthy, respectful student life. That’s one of the charges. Another one of the charges is to specifically look at unaffiliated, unregulated groups and whether there’s more that can be done to hold those individuals or groups responsible and to proactively try to minimize their behavior that’s unconducive to a healthy environment. The task force, it’s important to look at these groups and what more we can do than we’re doing now and important to also look at the larger context of what can be done.

I think there’s more that can be done to hold those groups and individuals responsible and to proactively try to minimize their behavior that’s unconducive to a healthy environment. The task force — it’s important to look at these groups and what more we can do than we’re doing now and it’s important to also look at the larger context of what can be done.

One of the other things that the Provost [Vincent Price] and I asked this group to do is to look specifically — think about the sophomore year experience at Penn, specifically, and see if their recommendations with regard to the sophomore year experience because we’ve heard about in talking to a lot of students — we’ve heard some concern about the pressures that come in freshman year because of sophomore year having to make all these choices about housing and so on. 

SPINELLI: Can you elaborate on that?

GUTMANN: Yeah, can I just say one more thing before I forget it? Another thing that we charged the group with is to consult broadly with students and so get a lot of input from students while they’re going ahead on, yeah. 

SPINELLI: All I wanted to ask was for you to elaborate on what you mean by the sophomore year experience. So not specific to a particular school, just general undergraduate sophomores?

[Gutmann asked to go off the record.]

SPINELLI: The next question we wanted to ask about was, given that already we’ve seen some people detained who were here in the U.S. under DACA, what will the University do if President Trump decides to roll that back, and will we continue to be a "sanctuary," as you said in your email?

GUTMANN: We, as I said in my email, have long been a safe space for students, faculty and staff. And I will continue, and we will continue to advocate for DACA for extension of DACA for the BRIDGE [Act] program and continue to do that. And we’ll continue to do everything to help our students including making sure they have the financial aid that they need and the support that they need.

SPINELLI: Would you describe Penn as a sanctuary campus?

[Gutmann asked to go off the record.]

SPINELLI: I think you’ve been very generous with your time, I think one thing we would ask is, "Let’s do this again."

GUTMANN: If I can answer specific questions I’ve always made myself available for specific questions as they come up. I mean, I have not been reluctant to do that.

[Gutmann asked to go off the record. When the off the record period was completed, Spinelli asked if there was any other topic Gutmann wanted to speak about.]

GUTMANN: The two first inaugural President's Innovation Prize winners, they both have companies at the Pennovation Center: XEED and Fever Smart. Qualcomm, a multinational, Fortune 500 company, has brought 25 engineers who would have been based in California to our Pennovation Center. The Sachs [Program for Arts] is creating an arts innovation hub, so we’re also going to be doing innovative things in the arts. This is really a sea change in how Penn is enabled to engage with the world at the same time as driving education for its students. And I foresee a time when we will do more with all our students in the arts as well as engineering. People are interested in robotics and medical devices and inventions and in, you know, artificial intelligence. That’s happening now. And it's really a transformation in the making. And you guys, I think, could really make a difference in enabling the student body and faculty cause staff too to know what’s happening. I’ll be happy to tell you as we think of more things too that we’re planning. This is a big deal.

SPINELLI: That sounds great. I'll definitely pass that along.

News Editor Genevieve Glatsky: I have one follow-up question to the sanctuary campus title, if I may, there have been several legislative initiatives intended to target sanctuary campuses. Do you think that could have the potential to affect Penn as you said you called it a "sanctuary" but not a "sanctuary campus?" I think some people may have made that jump on their own.

[Gutmann asked to go off the record. When she completed her off the record exchange, the interview concluded.]