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Penn President Amy Gutmann at her Senate confirmation hearing on Dec.14, 2021 (Photo from Senate Foreign Relations Committee).

The nomination of Penn President Amy Gutmann for U.S. ambassador to Germany will advance to a vote from the full Senate after Wednesday morning's committee meeting.  

Gutmann’s ambassadorship was just one of the nominations on the agenda for discussion at the meeting on Jan. 12. Other nominees on the agenda included Donald Armin Blome for U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Christopher R. Hill for U.S. ambassador to Serbia, among others. Gutmann still awaits confirmation from the full Senate before she can be sworn in as ambassador. 

Some members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted against Gutmann during the meeting, including Ranking Committee Member and Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), cited concerns regarding Chinese donations to the University under Gutmann’s presidency. 

Penn has repeatedly denied allegations of Chinese donations to the institution and its centers.

“We do not allow people running for public office to accept Chinese money or any other money. Why? Because we don't want them to purchase influence or exploit that position,” Risch said. “It just astounds me that we prohibit people running for public office from doing this, but yet we allow this tidal wave of a flow of money into these higher education institutions.”

Risch dismissed the notion that his dissenting vote was based on any concerns he had about Gutmann’s qualifications. He added that, once Gutmann is confirmed, he is willing and ready to work with the University president for the purpose of strengthening U.S. and German relations.

“Certainly, she's qualified. She's had a long and successful career,” Risch said at the meeting. 

During Gutmann’s committee hearing in December 2021, Risch had referenced a report released by the U.S. Department of Education which indicated that Penn has received $86 million of donations and contracts from China since 2014. Gutmann then responded that Penn “has stood strong against accepting any gifts that would threaten academic freedom or threaten national security,” as previously reported by The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Committee Chairman and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) added during the Jan. 12 meeting that he shared Risch’s concerns about Chinese influence in institutions of higher education across the country. He said none of the money that Penn received from Chinese donors went to research involving critical technologies or contained any classified information, however.

In May 2021, U.S. senators, including Menendez and Risch, proposed legislation to require national security reviews of large Chinese donations to American universities. The legislation was created with the goal of mitigating fears that foreign donations threaten research at American universities.