ThinkFest Recap: Amy Gutmann on Penn’s Future

On patents, women, MOOCs, and more.


Penn President Amy Gutmann was on the ThinkFest Main Stage just now, interviewed by TV anchor Jim Gardner about her institution’s future. We’ll super-size this one and give you five takeaways from the conversation:

ON PENN MONETIZING ITS RESEARCH AND PATENTS: “I do hope there are increasing returns, and certainly there have been for the last 10 years. Anything we get we plow back into the research engine, so that it’s moving faster and faster.”

She warned against having a purely economic focus on research, however. “It’s really a mistake to invest in this, at a university level, as if we could pick the winners ahead of time.”

• ON THE LACK OF WOMEN IN STEM PROFESSIONS: “We need to cultivate everybody’s talents in this country, because we’re not just going to succeed.”

“For sure it starts very young, and you have to attack it from the beginning. As girls get older, we know the pipeline starts narrowing and there are more and more discouragements.”

“We’re not moving forward. Computer science as a major has fewer women in it than it did 20 years ago.”

ON THE LACK OF LOW-INCOME HIGH-ACHIEVING STUDENTS IN SELECTIVE SCHOOLS LIKE PENN: “This is one of the greatest injustices and stupidities of our society. We’re not going to be a smart society or a wise society until we make the American dream come true for everyone of those kids.”

Penn, she said, has an all-grant no-loan financial aid policy for qualifying students. “If you want them to graduate, you’d better not saddle them with huge amounts of debt.”

ON MOOCs: “MOOCs have been tremendously hyped by your profession. I’m a believer in how important they are, not to replace campus space learning, but for adding to that a campus space leaning opportunity can be” — letting on-campus students do some self-directed learning outside the classroom — “but also for reaching people who don’t want to do their learning in that space.”

She added: “I think it’s a basic mistake of human psychology” not to realize the motivating aspects of “being in the presence” of a smart instructor.

ON WHETHER THE HUMANITIES ARE ENDANGERED: “If you can’t communicate well, if you can’t write well, there is no profession you’ll excel in. That’s why it’s important ffor our country to continue lauidnt humanities, and by the way it doesn’t cost that much.”

Check out all of our coverage from ThinkFest 2014.