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Larry Jameson, a clinician turned University administrator, has been interim president for just over a month — and there is perhaps no Penn leader to have taken office amid so much turmoil on campus.

Penn is the subject of two congressional investigations, placing scrutiny on its tax-exempt status and its response to antisemitism in recent months. The University is also battling student and faculty concerns about free speech and donor influence, while welcoming a new University Board of Trustees chair and anticipating another presidential search following former Penn President Liz Magill's unprecedented resignation.

All of this and more is expected to be confronted by Jameson, who ascended to the Penn presidency on Dec. 12, 2023 — three days after Magill stepped down from the presidency amid national controversy. A request for comment on how long Jameson will serve was left with a University spokesperson, though an Undergraduate Assembly meeting recording and comments by its president suggest he will "reasonably" remain president for the rest of the academic year and into 2025.

Jameson — a physician who insists that his department chairs refer to him as Larry — comes to College Hall after spending over a decade as executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. Penn Med was highly successful under his leadership — prompting Arthur Rubenstein, Jameson’s predecessor as executive vice president and dean, to call him the “obvious choice” for the interim presidency.

"He brings people together,” Perelman School of Medicine Chair of Radiation Oncology James Metz told The Daily Pennsylvanian of Jameson. “And that's what we need right now — as an institution, as a country, we need unifiers.”

The DP spoke with 22 current and former colleagues of Jameson to hear about Jameson’s history, accomplishments, and leadership ability. All of those interviewed spoke highly of his qualifications for the interim presidency.

An early career as an 'outstanding researcher'

Prior to working at Penn, Jameson graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, completed clinician training at Massachusetts General Hospital, and became chief of the thyroid unit and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School before leaving in 1993. 

Rubenstein — who was familiar with Jameson and his research while Jameson worked in Massachussetts — told the DP that “[Jameson] was well known as an outstanding researcher” at the time. He specialized in endocrinology.

Jameson spent the next 18 years at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, where he served as chair of the department of medicine and eventually medical school dean in 2007. His former colleagues at Northwestern made a point to highlight his measured leadership and personal involvement both inside and outside of the lab during this time. 

Feinberg School professor of urology and biochemistry and molecular genetics Joshua Meeks — who was one of Jameson’s Ph.D. mentees — told the DP that he was impressed with Jameson's work ethic and care for others' successes.

“I was fortunate enough to go to meetings with him and travel with his family, and he balanced all that incredibly well,” Meeks said. 

Mary Hunzicker-Dunn served as a professor in the department of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern when Jameson was chair of the department of medicine. 

Hunzicker-Dunn, like many of those interviewed, praised Jameson’s quiet confidence — but never arrogance — in his academic abilities, and his interpersonal skills outside of them to approach a variety of situations.

“He's aggressive in his scientific approaches, but not in his approaches to people,” she said. “I think that's what's made him so successful — he just listens and then responds appropriately."

Applying a clinician's lens to his work

In 2011, former Penn President Amy Gutmann recruited Jameson to succeed Rubenstein as dean and executive vice president.

Penn Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, who was on the search committee that selected Jameson, praised his preparedness and public speaking ability.

“When he came in and talked to the [search] committee, he addressed each person and made sure — whether it was a student or faculty member — that everyone got a chance to ask him a question,” Carnaroli said.

Rubenstein said that he approved Jameson’s hire and was very pleased with it, citing his previous familiarity with Jameson as a “very distinguished and well-known researcher and writer” as well as "an already very accomplished administrator … and very successful dean.”

Many of those interviewed suggested that Jameson’s background as a physician influences his leadership style, praising his empathetic approach.

"As a clinician, he comes to all aspects of his work through the lens of there [being] multiple possible outcomes here, and if we thoughtfully consider the evidence, we'll come up with the right strategy to pursue," Senior Vice Dean for Clinical and Translational Research Emma Meagher said. 

Jameson’s colleagues also described him as a leader who gives agency to his colleagues by not being excessively hands-on, while also maintaining frequent communication.

Dermatology department Chair George Cotsarelis praised Jameson’s memory, describing an instance when, after mistaking the location of a meeting, Jameson entered a planned departmental review without his notes and detailed the review by memory.

“I was just floored,” Cotsarelis said. “It was shocking to me.”

Several of those interviewed also mentioned Jameson’s close relationships with Magill and Gutmann during their tenures, adding that Jameson met with both presidents multiple times every week as part of his routine.

“Both Dr. Gutmann and President Magill really viewed him as a member of the cabinet,” Carnaroli said. “So he was at the leadership table with us as we dealt with a variety of issues."

Rubenstein also praised Jameson’s ability to work effectively with trustees, particularly on Penn Medicine's subcommittee on the board.

"He's able to project the image of competence and modesty and outstanding ability in a very direct and quiet way," Rubenstein said, "and the trustees must have admired that a lot.”

Raising Penn Med's stature

Jameson’s colleagues also noted a range of successes as an administrator — raising the stature of Penn Med through research breakthroughs, implementing several strategic plans, and navigating several crises.

Eve Higginbotham — Penn Med’s inaugural vice dean for the office of inclusion, diversity, and equity — specifically mentioned Penn Med’s decision to discontinue participation in the annual U.S. News and World Report “Best Hospitals” rankings in 2023. She commended Jameson’s willingness to solicit others’ opinions.

“It would have been easy for him to make the decision on his own, but he called on his advisory groups for advice … and got various opinions,” Higginbotham said. “He provided the necessary platform for the discussion [and] the necessary data.”

Higginbotham also mentioned Jameson’s support for the implementation of a strategic initiative following the death of George Floyd, which resulted in approximately 97% of Penn Med's 45,000 employees receiving unconscious bias training.

In the early 2010s, Penn researcher Carl June — who described himself as a “huge fan” of Jameson — made a breakthrough discovery pertaining to chimeric antigen receptor T cell immunotherapy, a treatment that modifies a patient’s T cells to target and kill their own cancer cells. 

Jameson oversaw the licensing and marketing of this discovery, including a 2012 exclusivity agreement with Novartis — which June cited as a good decision and praised Jameson’s involvement in.

June praised Jameson's efforts to keep him at the University following his breakthrough, after which he received several employment offers. June specifically noted the creation of an endowed professorship and improvements to infrastructure. 

He also praised the improvement of Penn Med’s reputation under Jameson’s leadership, saying that “the track record of what Perelman [School of Medicine] has done is the envy of every other university in the U.S.”

"We get the cream of the crop now, and then that means we're able to cherry-pick people, for faculty and so on," June said, listing his lab as an example of the stronger applicant pools under Jameson's leadership.

In October 2023, Penn researchers Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their research into messenger RNA technology, which was critical in the development of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. The research has been credited as saving 14.4 million deaths within a year.

While Weissman and Karikó’s discovery did not take place under his leadership — and the University's treatment of Karikó, in particular, has received widespread criticism — Jameson managed and invested much of the University's revenue from their successes. He spoke at a press conference on the morning of the announcement and attended a flash mob in celebration of their win.

“The achievements of Dr. Weissman and Karikó have changed the course of history,” Jameson said at the press conference. 

Neurology department Chair and Co-director of the Penn Medicine Translational Neuroscience Center Frances Jensen praised Jameson’s response to the team's successes — which combined to place Penn first on a 2023 ranking of research institutions by licensing revenue. 

June’s discovery has generated in excess of $800 million, according to him, and Weissman and Karikó’s research has generated in excess of $1 billion

“He's been stewarding that very well, and keeping people well informed, he's very transparent, and very direct in his communications,” Jensen said.

Jameson was the University's highest-paid administrator in fiscal year 2021 and received a base salary of $4.5 million last year. He also spearheaded the construction and opening of the Pavilion — Penn Med's $1.6 billion and 17-story facility — which opened to patients in fall 2021.

Chief Executive Officer of UPHS Kevin Mahoney, who was described by other sources as having spearheaded the Pavilion project, described Jameson as their “north star” for his guidance during the process.

“Larry I would put down as the provocateur,” Mahoney said. “He would ask challenging questions, [and] he listened as we debated. In terms of going to the board of directors and working with College Hall, he was a leader.”

In his role as executive vice president and dean, Jameson also had an important role to play in the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — with several of those interviewed praising Jameson’s ability to innovate and pivot at the early stage of the pandemic.

Mahoney said that he spoke with Jameson regularly at the early stage of the pandemic to project the need for hospital beds based on early data and working closely with the University to set up COVID-19 testing and protect staff. He added that Jameson was familiar with the ongoing development of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Jameson also played a role in a number of high-profile administrative appointments. He chaired the 2013 and 2019 search committees for the next Wharton School deans — the latter of which recommended Wharton Dean Erika James. He also led the 2017 and 2022 provost search committees, which recommended Provost John Jackson Jr. in 2022; and served on the Presidential Selection Committee which recommended Magill’s appointment.

James wrote to the DP that she is grateful for the role Jameson played in bringing her to Penn and to Wharton, and stated that she is “especially grateful to have an interim president who is so knowledgeable about Wharton.”

“Coupled with his long tenure at Penn and deep institutional knowledge and relationships, his accomplishments span the full intellectual and administrative remit of the University,” James added. “Dr. Jameson possesses an extremely unique combination of skills and experiences that make him the ideal leader at this pivotal point for our community.”

Taking care of a university under scrutiny

Radiation Oncology Chair Metz told the DP that the entirety of Penn Med was pleased with Jameson’s appointment and is confident in his ability to handle this tumultuous time on campus.

“As I talk to chairs, as I talk to leadership here, as I talk to the Penn Medicine side who has worked with Larry for all these years, everybody to a tee says that he is the right person for this job,” Metz said. “I’ve not heard one negative from somebody saying this is the wrong person."

Former CEO of UPHS Ralph Muller — who retired in 2019 and said that he has been in regular communication with Jameson over the past month — told the DP that Jameson recognized that it was a tough task to accept the job of interim president. He also said that Jameson was planning on leaving his role as dean and executive vice president in late 2025 prior to his appointment as interim president.

“I think anybody who's enrolled on Penn’s campus now is going to have to deal with [controversial] issues,” Muller said. “I think temperamentally, he's so balanced, he gets along with people, and he is not a contentious person — but nor was President Magill.”

Senior reporter Jessica Wu contributed reporting to this article.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include further comment provided by Wharton Dean Erika James.