Shalala’s decision to step down at the end of this academic year has ripped a hole in the fabric of the university, leaving many wondering how on Earth we could possibly find better guidance. It’s true, greatness cannot easily be replaced; at the same time, Shalala’s brilliance provides the Presidential Search Committee a definite model of the characteristics it should seek in Shalala’s replacement.
In her 14 years as president of UM, Shalala demonstrated an iron commitment to academic ideals. Her Momentum fundraising campaign raised about $1.4 billion for scholarships, facility improvements and research. Under her tenure, UM reached the rank of No. 38 in the nation in 2012, the university’s highest ranking to date. She also oversaw the creation of a biotech research park that strengthened UM’s standing as a research university.
The new president should display a similar diligence in furthering the school’s academic reputation.
But as important as it is for UM to remain well-respected in the public eye, it is even more vital for students themselves to feel that they are in good hands. Even if many students are unfamiliar with the specifics of Shalala’s contributions, odds are that they still recognize her from her regular walks around campus, when she greets passersby and even stops to chat with those who wish to. She also teaches undergraduate courses, invites incoming freshmen to her home every year and frequently attends sports matches.
Shalala’s visibility and approachability reinforce the fact that UM is maintained and supported by living, breathing, caring human beings. Students may find it daunting to navigate UM’s size and scattered departments, but regular encounters with the president help students see the humanity behind the system. Shalala’s attention to the student body has made UM feel not like a faceless entity of academic learning, but like a home instead.
In comparison to other universities, where students may never have seen the president and may not even know who he or she is, we have been spoiled. The Presidential Search Committee will be hard-pressed to find a candidate with as much dedication, ability and spunk as Donna Shalala. But in setting a brilliant example, Shalala has given us the tools to patch up the hole she’s leaving and make UM as good as new – or rather, better than ever.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.