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Monday, November 22, 2010

Q&A with Penn President Amy Gutmann

Last Wednesday's presidential conversation on bioethics with Emory's Jim Wagner and the University of Pennsylvania's Amy Gutmann was such a success, we just didn't want it to end.

We've been to Philadelphia and even visited Penn's campus and we liked both a lot, but we really didn't know that much about the university's community. We also were intrigued about Gutmann's work on the bioethics commission, which met for two days last week at the CDC in Atlanta.

Before Gutmann left to return home, we asked if we could email her some questions to learn a bit more about the commission and her community.

She pleasantly obliged us, and here's what we talked about.

EAA: Tell us about your Atlanta experience. What was it like? Both with the commission meeting and our Wednesday evening conversation.

AG: The
President’s Commission held meetings in Atlanta at the invitation of Jim Wagner. These meetings were also part of an effort to make sure that we hear from voices all over the country. Atlanta was an important stop for us because of the presence of Emory, the Centers for Disease Control, and other groups integrally involved in biotech, medical, and public health issues.

One of the personal highlights for me was our
alumni event at the CDC. Seeing so many engaged alumni from Penn and Emory who wanted to learn more about bioethics was particularly heartening. Part of what makes Penn special is its unique mission of putting knowledge into practice to benefit the world, and this event was a perfect example — fielding questions from alumni on an important societal issue, sharing the stage with President Wagner to talk about our work on the President’s Commission, and benefiting from our eminent faculty, who facilitated an engaging and edifying conversation.

EAA: Why is advancing dialogue on bioethics important?

AG: Bioethical dilemmas by definition have no obvious answer, at least at the outset. Through respectful debate about opposing views and active participation by all citizens, we often can find common ground and, where we cannot do so, we work to cultivate mutual respect where irreconcilable differences remain.

Particularly in a society like ours, where we rely on informed consent and surrogate decision-making, it is critical that all citizens are empowered to make knowledgeable decisions in the best interest of themselves, their family, and their community. Ongoing dialogue is critical for individual education and collective policy development. It is broad public interest in such profound matters that makes advancing the dialogue surrounding bioethics critical.

EAA: How has it been working with
President Wagner? Did you know a lot about Emory or our community when this partnership began?

AG: It's been a great pleasure working with Jim! I think we have very complementary strengths — his background in engineering brings a wonderful perspective to my work on ethics and public policy. Before my work on this commission, I was very aware—and appreciative—of Emory’s role as a leading research university with strong and distinguished programs in the arts, sciences, and professions. I also admired Jim’s particular focus on furthering the university’s interdisciplinary commitment to ethics, which made me confident that he was a very wise choice to serve as vice chair of the commission.

Jim and I both recognize the responsibility of universities to further deliberation about complex issues among people who disagree. It’s wonderful that President Obama did, too.

EAA: What's
Penn's alumni community like? Not just here in Atlanta, but around the world?

AG: Without exception, whether I’m traveling to Atlanta or elsewhere in the United States, internationally, or if I am at home in Philadelphia, the Penn alumni I meet are passionately engaged, amazingly energetic, and proud of their Penn connection. Our global alumni number nearly 300,000, and we have 122 alumni clubs: 68 domestic clubs in the United States, plus clubs in 49 foreign countries.

These active members of the community serve as leaders in business, government, medicine, science, the arts, and the media. They also participate as trustees, as overseers of Penn schools and centers, and as leaders of class- and school-based initiatives.

EAA: Any ideas about future joint Penn/Emory events in Philadelphia?

AG: I would be delighted to host a similar event in Philadelphia for our joint alumni communities. I hope we have the opportunity! In the meantime, I extend a warmest welcome to Emory alumni to visit our campus.

-- Eric Rangus, director, communications, EAA

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