UPenn president Amy Gutmann is Biden’s pick for ambassador to Germany

Her 15-year tenure at the West Philly university hasn’t been without controversy.

Joe Biden, at the time a former VP, with Amy Gutmann during a roundtable discussion in the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016

Joe Biden, at the time a former VP, with Amy Gutmann during a roundtable discussion in the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016

Joseph Kaczmarek / AP Photo
michaelawinberg-2020-2

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann has been nominated to ascend to the role of U.S. Ambassador to Germany, President Joe Biden announced Friday.

News that the 15-year Penn president would be tapped to take over international relations with the largest European country — a seat that’s been filled for the last year by acting ambassador Robin Quinville — was first reported last week by a journalist with Der Spiegel.

Gutmann’s father, Kurt Gutmann, was a college student in Germany at the start of the Holocaust. He suffered discrimination and boycotts of his family’s store because he was Jewish, before he managed to escape Nazi Germany in 1934.

Her father died in 1966, but Gutmann, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has said she still feels a strong connection to him — and his perseverance. She brought one of the world’s largest Holocaust archives to Penn in 2012.

“It’s true that his whole family would have disappeared from the face of the earth had it not been for what he did,” she told the Daily Pennsylvanian the following year.

When President Joe Biden was elected, Gutmann’s colleagues and close friends suspected she would soon make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. The 46th president has plenty of ties to Penn — he was a professor, and he funded the university’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

Biden also maintains a friendship with Gutmann, and she has hosted him at Penn for several forums and discussions over the years, including conversations on cancer research and the opioid epidemic.

After he clinched the leader of the free world gig in November, rumors swirled on the West Philly campus that Gutmann might be tapped for a national role, possibly as Biden’s education secretary.

She didn’t get that job. Instead, as ambassador, Gutmann will oversee relations between the United States and Germany, managing American representatives and foreign services officers operating there.

Gutmann hosted then-former VP Biden at a forum on the opioid epidemic at UPenn in April 2019 in Philadelphia

Gutmann hosted then-former VP Biden at a forum on the opioid epidemic at UPenn in April 2019 in Philadelphia

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Gutmann’s legacy at Penn is… complicated.

Since she took over the helm of the university, first-generation college student Gutmann affirmed Penn’s status as a sanctuary campus and criticized former President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration.

But she’s taken heat, too — from multiple angles. After a white police officer killed Black teenager Michael Brown, Gutmann participated in a die-in with Penn students, which “outraged” members of the university police force.

The highest-paid Ivy League president, Gutmann opted not to take a pay cut during the pandemic, unlike her peers at other Ivy League schools.

Protesters have shown up at her UPenn residents on more than one occasion: In 2014, to demand the school contribute more money to the School District of Philadelphia, and again this year, when the Penn Museum revealed it kept for years the remains from children killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing.

Gutmann isn’t the first local official that Scranton native Biden has brought with him to the national stage. He picked former Pennsylvania Health Commissioner Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary of health earlier this year — and she became the first openly trans federal official confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

If Gutmann’s confirmed, it’ll likely kick off a nationwide search for her replacement at Penn.

Before Gutmann got the job, the last Penn president was Judith Rodin, a Philly native and philanthropist. She held the position for 10 years.

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.