Trump’s alma mater

Gut­mann: ‘I speak out on poli­cies not peo­ple’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - El­lie.both­[email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­

The ques­tion of how a univer­sity leader should re­spond to di­vi­sive na­tional and in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments has be­come par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent in re­cent years.

But it is a dilemma that is per­haps es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing for Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia pres­i­dent Amy Gut­mann (pic­tured above) – who is not only a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist spe­cial­is­ing in no­tions of com­pro­mise and de­lib­er­a­tion in democ­racy, but also the leader of Don­ald Trump’s alma mater.

Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann’s strat­egy, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports, has been to say as lit­tle as pos­si­ble about the ad­min­is­tra­tion led by an eco­nomics grad­u­ate of Penn’s Whar­ton School. An ar­ti­cle in Philadel­phia mag­a­zine last year says that Pro­fes- sor Gut­mann “put up a wall of si­lence, re­fus­ing to de­nounce Trump or his views” when he emerged as a se­ri­ous pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, an ap­proach that led to an on­line pe­ti­tion from an alum­nus call­ing for her to con­demn his rhetoric.

An­other ar­ti­cle pub­lished ear­lier this year in The Daily Penn­syl­va­nian, the univer­sity’s stu­dent news­pa­per, claims: “To this day, Gut­mann has not men­tioned Don­ald Trump by name” – al­though a video em­bed­ded in the same ar­ti­cle shows her ref­er­enc­ing “Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent ex­ec­u­tive or­der”.

“It’s not a fact that I have never men­tioned the name be­cause in that video I ac­tu­ally do,” Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

How­ever, she ac­knowl­edged that her gen­eral strat­egy was to “speak out on poli­cies but not on peo­ple”, adding that she has pub­licly spo­ken out in favour of al­low­ing im­mi­grants brought into the US il­le­gally as chil­dren to stay in the coun­try and against ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on im­mi­gra­tion.

“What I speak out firmly about are things that are con­sis­tent with the val­ues of our univer­sity. And be­ing open to the best and bright­est from all over the world is one of our val­ues,” she said.

“That’s both an eth­i­cal and a prag­matic strat­egy. It fits our val­ues that we are al­lowed to be a non­profit in­sti­tu­tion on the ba­sis that we are non-par­ti­san, but…I feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity to speak out [about] and work hard [on] those poli­cies that are crit­i­cal to our mis­sion.”

While many US uni­ver­si­ties have been hit with a de­cline in ap­pli­ca­tions from in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in the wake of Mr Trump’s elec­tion, Penn has seen an in­crease, which Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann at­tributes in part to her pub­lic state­ments.

Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann’s lat­est book, The Spirit of Com­pro­mise: Why Gov­ern­ing De­mands It and Cam­paign­ing Un­der­mines It, co-au­thored by Har­vard Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Den­nis Thomp­son and pub­lished in 2012, makes the case that in a democ­racy po­lit­i­cal lead­ers must com­pro­mise to pre­vent “po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis”, as demon­strated by the “grid­lock” in Congress in re­cent years.

Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann said that “when­ever any in­sti­tu­tion comes for­ward and asks for some­thing from gov­ern­ment which is, let’s say, mon­e­tary, there’s likely to be some com­pro­mise nec­es­sary” but added that it did not mean uni­ver­si­ties should be “com­pla­cent”.

“I like to say that com­pla­cency is the smother of in­ven­tion,” she said. “Yes, we have to make com­pro­mises with peo­ple that we’re ask­ing things from. But should we then be sat­is­fied when we get less than what’s ideal? No, you keep try­ing to do more, to show that you’re go­ing to do more.”

Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann re­fused to be drawn on what the re­sults of the re­cent US midterm elec­tions will mean for higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy but wel­comed the in­creased voter turnout among stu­dents at her univer­sity – a trend that she said re­flected her own val­ues but also “Penn’s val­ues” as an in­sti­tu­tion strongly com­mit­ted to civic en­gage­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to The Daily Penn­syl­va­nian, in ex­cess of 3,300 stu­dents voted at Penn’s eight on-cam­pus polling sta­tions last month, more than tripling the num­ber of those who voted in the 2014 midterms, based on num­bers col­lected by the in­sti­tu­tion’s Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment and Com­mu­nity Af­fairs. Pro­fes­sor Gut­mann cred­ited the stu­dent-led and non-par­ti­san ini­tia­tive called “Penn Leads the Vote”, which was es­tab­lished in 2004 and re-es­tab­lished in 2018.

She said that civic ed­u­ca­tion has been “pushed out too much” from schools and so “higher ed­u­ca­tion has an obli­ga­tion to do more and more to teach it” and pro­mote it.

“We are very com­mit­ted to lo­cal en­gage­ment with our com­mu­nity. We have mul­ti­ple part­ner­ships,” she said.

“We are an an­chor in­sti­tu­tion, we’re the largest pri­vate em­ployer in Philadel­phia and it’s re­ally the case that when Philadel­phia thrives, we thrive.”

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