Four months of planning, 100 days of listening and a week of events will culminate in Dr. Julio Frenk’s installation as the sixth president of the University of Miami at his inauguration ceremony on Friday.
It was April 2015 when Frenk was announced as the school’s next president, taking over from President Donna E. Shalala’s 14-year tenure. He called it “the Miami moment” at the time, and now comes his moment to formally tie himself to the school.
The ceremonial inauguration serves as a public commitment between the two parties, according to Harvard University President Drew Faust, a colleague of Frenk’s during his time as the dean of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“It’s a little bit like a wedding, actually, where in the presence of assembled friends and colleagues you affirm your commitment to the institution, and the institution affirms its commitment to you,” Faust said.
In September 2015, President Frenk met the school’s community for the first time in a Town Hall event where he took questions from students and presented his initial “roadmap” to success. He laid out his 100 days of listening exercise – his own way of immersing and marinating himself in the school to learn its culture, history and the concerns of its community. He promised “intensive, immersive and iterative” listening.
Khaleel Seecharan accompanied President Frenk to all but two sessions during the exercise as the assistant vice president of special projects in the Office of the President. He said the listening let President Frenk understand the desires, opportunities and challenges in the school’s community, and use that understanding to build his plan for the school.
“I think the listening exercise was a chance to say, ‘Did I hear you correctly? And if I didn’t, tell me more,’” Seecharan said. “And I think that’s what he really used that opportunity for.”
He said President Frenk heard from 5,000 people in total, including 1,400 messages in the online mailbox and meetings with large groups, such as the deans and faculty of each school.
President Frenk’s plan to listen led to his delayed inauguration – Shalala held hers in her first semester, during homecoming.
“The reason he set that inauguration date so far out is that it would be irresponsible of him to arrive on August 16 and then have his on Sept. 1 and then say, ‘Here is our university’ when he’d barely been on campus for two weeks,” Seecharan said.
He appointed an Inauguration Committee, which then made subcommittees for each event, according to the Chair of the Inauguration Committee, Sergio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who serves as senior vice president for University Advancement and External Affairs, said the committee enlisted the help of people from all across the university.
The committee organized watch parties for members of the “UM family” across the country to view the men’s and women’s basketball games during Inauguration Week.
“We wanted the entire university family and community, in the broadest sense, to be a part of this … alums internationally, nationally and also locally,” Gonzalez said.
Following the Celebration of Women’s Athletics and the two basketball games was Firsts at UM on Wednesday night. UM Libraries worked with the committees to exhibit memorabilia and historical items from the archives, such as photographs of the first faculty, the first Cuban student and the first Heisman trophy.
A talk about the new century of medicine by President Frenk at the Miller School of Medicine on Thursday and ‘Cane Talks on Friday morning will precede the ceremonial inauguration.
Faust, who will be speaking at the inauguration, has known President Frenk since hiring him to his post at Harvard. During his tenure there, she became familiar with President Frenk’s leadership abilities when he was on the Council of Deans.
When President Frenk went to her with the news that he was selected to lead UM, Faust realized it was a perfect fit.
“What I thought was, ‘Oh, of course, it makes such sense.’ I mean, I thought, ‘Oh no,’ but what a perfect thing,” she said. “It was clear as Julio served as dean, he got more and more interested, and demonstrated that interest in the university as a whole and how it worked and what its role in society was,” Faust said. “He always had the big picture in mind.”
President Frenk is expected to reflect on his takeaways from the listening exercise, look back at the university’s first 90 years and introduce his plan, the big picture.
According to Seecharan, President Frenk’s focus has been on the university’s centennial since day one.
“His thought was, ‘We’re going to build the university of our next century in the next 10 years.’ So when we celebrate our centennial, we have already realized the university we want to be for our next century.”
Editor’s note, Jan. 28: President Frenk was a member and a leader on the Council of Deans.