Growing up watching international soccer, it would always bother me when a country had a foreign coach. All the players on the team had to be from the same country, so why didn’t the coach? I felt that foreign coaches did not have the same passion and care for the team, as did coaches from the same country. When there is a personal connection with a job, there is more of a desire for success.
As of Saturday afternoon on Dec. 9, Liz Magill had resigned as the president of Penn. Magill majored in history at Yale and later received her J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School. After, she became a professor there and later a dean at Stanford Law School. Prior to her time at Penn, she had no close connection to the University. As with domestic soccer coaches, I believe that having an alumnus president would improve leadership. They would be able to relate more to the students and have a more personal connection to Penn.
Whenever I have had a professor who graduated from Penn, I felt that they could relate to the student experience and culture of the University. Whether it be them living in the high rises (although they had different names back then according to my professor), or having stories to share about their time at Penn, I felt that they understood what it was like to be in my shoes at one point. Having a Penn president who understands the atmosphere of Penn as a student would benefit in their decision making. Penn’s pre-professional focus and huge emphasis on the financial world sets it apart from other Ivy League schools. Also, having a president who has called Philadelphia home before helps understand the location of the school better. Their knowledge of how Penn has changed over time and connecting their experience as a student with modern issues helps them to have a better idea what students today deal with, even if they attended Penn decades ago,
In the recent weeks, we have seen that many Penn alumni are passionate about their alma mater. They voice their opinions and want Penn to be run appropriately, whether you agree with their view or not, and care about the reputation of their university. Donations from alumni similarly show that they care about the school and how their donations enhance the student experience. This same energy should be held by the president. By having this personal connection with the school, the presidency would seem less like a job and more like they are giving back to their alma mater.
Many top universities have alumni serving as president. Yale, Princeton, and the University of Chicago all have presidents who are alumni. When Paul Alivisatos, president of the University of Chicago, became president, “enthusiasm for his new role and his alma mater was evident. After relating early meetings with students and faculty and sharing reminiscences of Valois and the Shoreland, he paused to reflect on the possibilities ahead.” As a returning alumnus, he remembered his time as a student and was excited to work with current students of his alma mater. Penn has an extensive network of over 290,000 alumni worldwide who are leaders in their respective fields. With so many impressive alumni, it should not be too hard to find a qualified alumnus to serve as president.
By no means does not graduating from Penn create an unsuccessful president. Former President Amy Gutmann did not graduate from Penn, but she still helped Penn increase the endowment by over $16 billion dollars and innovated Penn Medicine during the pandemic. That being said, when 6 out of the 9 tenured presidents Penn has had did not graduate from Penn, it might be time for a change.
With the over $1.2 million dollar salary that comes with being president of Penn, the prestigious job has an even more prestigious pay, but the Penn presidency should not just be a job for a salary. This job should be taken seriously because the president's actions impact the entire Penn community and garner national attention. The University’s reputation, student safety and experience, and alumni connections are all driven by the president’s actions. I hope that whoever is the next president of the University of Pennsylvania can connect with student issues and make sure every student can come here to learn. As we have seen in the last few weeks, the Penn president has a national audience and must do their best for the entire Penn community.
ERIC NAJERA is a College sophomore studying history from Rolling Meadows, IL. His email is email@example.com.