University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann has been nominated to serve as United States ambassador to Germany, the White House announced Friday.
Gutmann finally notified the Penn community of her nomination late Friday afternoon, after the West Philadelphia-based Ivy League school repeatedly ignored questions about the announcement.
Gutmann said in a news release that she plans to serve until the end of her presidency at Penn or until there is a Senate confirmation, which would lead her to leave her post a few months early.
"Until that time, I remain absolutely energized and engaged in leading Penn with an unrivaled leadership team and community of faculty, students, staff, and alumni," she said.
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Her departure could create a vacuum in the university's leadership, as Penn's number two administrator Provost Wendell Pritchett is on a medical leave of absence as of July 1.
Gutmann still needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate and accepted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
If confirmed, she would be the first woman to hold the position, stepping in to repair relations with an important ally after damage caused by President Donald Trump's administration.
She is also Biden's first ambassador nominee to a Group of Seven Nation. The nomination was introduced ahead of a meeting between Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on July 15 at the White House.
Gutmann is a political philosopher and academic who has written extensively on democracy. Although she has limited political experience, she did serve as chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues during President Barack Obama's administration.
Her father, Kurt Gutmann, was a college student in Germany at the start of the Holocaust. He escaped Nazi Germany in 1934 and had a profound impact on Amy Gutmann's life, inspiring her to be courageous and to recognize the difference that one person can make.
Her contract is supposed to expire in June 2022, which would make her the longest serving university president. She was first hired as president 17 years ago in 2004.
Gutmann's potential departure will likely set off a nationwide search for a successor and a shuffle to fill the top spots in the university's administration. The news release did not mention who may fill Gutmann's position if she needs to depart before her contract expires.
Pritchett, who holds the second top spot at Penn, is on leave through the end of the fall 2021 semester. Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein is filling his spot in the interim.
The university's Board of Trustees is also undergoing transformation with a new chair as of July 1. Penn graduate and investment banker Scott Bok replaced David L. Cohen, who has served as chair since November 2009.
Cohen, a senior advisor at Comcast, is reportedly under consideration for the position of U.S. ambassador to Canada.
"We have a most dedicated and talented leadership team and Board of Trustees that are altogether unsurpassed in higher education, so there is every reason to be confident that the operations of our University will proceed apace without any interruptions," Gutmann said in the news release.
Penn has close ties to Biden, who previously held an honorary professorship at the university. Biden also established the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C.
The university has paid Biden more than $900,000 since he left the White House for a role that primarily involved campus appearances with no regular classes.