Inauguration Week, Opinion, The Maturity Column

Gentle and Frenk: Our sixth President

After one semester, we can finally start to paint a picture of President Julio Frenk. A fully-clothed picture, that is.

Our new leader’s face first greeted us last spring from online pictures and magazines featuring his signature crinkly, closed-mouth smile. Like if James Franco had a baby with Principal Skinner from “The Simpsons.”

But now, after President Frenk’s first Homecoming and finals week, we know a few more tidbits about the mysterious, reserved man behind the photos.

First off, he’s adaptable. When he started, he threw up the U like he was playing paper football. Now, after plenty of practice with student selfies, he can finally throw up the letter that is already in his name.

That adaptability is his most-necessary trait right now, as President Frenk inherited two massive construction projects: the new Health Center and the ten-year housing plan, which should both have enough free condoms to put the CVS across the street out of business. He also stepped up right in the middle of a growing dialogue about race and LGBT issues on campus and is working with those respective task forces in stride.

During President Donna Shalala’s final run, she aggressively pursued how she wanted the campus to change in her absence – almost like her last will for our school. I guess she forgot to include Al Golden.

But President Frenk didn’t come thrashing with scissors through her blueprint, and instead has opted to study it and listen to his advisors ask, “Haaaaave you met Donna?”

At the end of last semester, I interviewed Senior Executive Director of Housing, Jim Smart, about President Frenk’s involvement with the housing plan, which involves knocking down the freshmen dorms. He said President Frenk hadn’t made any drastic changes to the pre-approved process thus far, but will have the opportunity.

Frenk is still moving cautiously, first getting a good feel for the land before making any game-changing moves. This is probably why he hosted a Town Hall last semester, during which he demonstrated his soft-spoken demeanor and kindness.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the president when he visited the School of Communication’s news studio for the first time (I am a broadcast journalism major with a concentration in attention.)

While we spoke, he blew me away with how many questions he asked. He seemed to really care and want to learn about his students. Actually, now that I think about it, he might have actually been asking, “Do we really need to be spending money on this studio?”

Here, I saw a major difference between President Frenk and his predecessor. With his questions, President Frenk commanded the attention of the room in the opposite way that President Shalala would have.

When I interviewed Shalala on UM’s late-night talk and sketch comedy show “Off the Wire,” she brandished her wit and spunk with stories of losing a bet to Sebastian and kicking out the lake’s alligator once the students named it Donna.

Meanwhile, President Frenk used silence as his weapon. He would stand there and nod to let you know that he was contemplating your answer. Next to Miss Effie in the Mahoney-Pearson Dining Hall, he’s the best listener on campus.

Overall, President Frenk is emerging as a quiet, but effective leader. While he may not have had enough time to make any monumental shifts to our campus, he demonstrates his adaptability and overall genuine nature with the actions that we have seen so far.

And hey, if nothing else, Al Golden is gone, right?

Danny New is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. The Maturity Column runs alternate Mondays.

January 24, 2016

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Danny New


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