Shalala shows Hurricane what it takes to run UM
Up close and personal with the president
At 8:30 a.m. on a recent Friday, UM President Donna E. Shalala walks into a conference room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Coconut Grove for a 15-minute appearance.
A group of professors from the College of Arts and Sciences is meeting for a two-day retreat to discuss the future of the college.
After working the room for a few minutes, Shalala sits at a table near the front.
James Wyche, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, walks up to the podium and asks “our noble president” to say “a few words of comfort” to professors in a school that is at an “important juncture.”
Shalala, petite next to Wyche, walks up to the podium, adjusts the microphone to her height and delivers one of her customary punch lines.
“This place,” she says, pausing for a moment. “It’s kind of ritzy.”
Laughter spreads through the room, then subsides.
“I had to say that,” she adds, before getting down to business.
The college’s curriculum needs an overhaul, Shalala says, arguing that programs must become more interdisciplinary in order for the University to remain competitive. Many at UM like the idea; some don’t.
“President Woodrow Wilson once said that trying to revise a college curriculum is like trying to move a graveyard,” she tells the crowd. “We periodically have to step back and see how we’re doing.”
During Shalala’s two-year tenure, the College of Arts and Sciences welcomed a new dean and took on the now-defunct School of International Studies-a controversial move that drew ire from students and professors. Several critics and supporters of the change were stunned by the ease with which Shalala dropped her first bomb at the University.
While receptive to criticism, the president clearly has a mind of her own.
“The world is interdisciplinary,” she says, standing outside the hotel, waiting for her ride. “Students like that idea.”
Minutes later, the president arrives at her office. On Fridays, she usually spends a couple of hours combing through mail, responding to e-mail and returning phone calls. Her agenda for the day is posted on a plastic desktop frame. The schedule has a header with a series of heads-ups for the day.
“FYI: Student reporter from The Miami Hurricane will shadow you today. Wear something bright and makeup for video shoot.”
As Shalala flips through a copy of The Miami Hurricane, Margot Winick, head of the University’s Media Relations office, tells her that the newspaper ran a brief about the newly appointed dean of the School of Nursing, who is Hispanic.
“What about the Spanish media?” Shalala asks.
They haven’t picked it up, Winick replies.
“What the Hurricane needs is a good gossip column,” Shalala says, putting the paper down. “You’re laughing – people read that stuff,” she adds.
Shalala is media savvy. Photogenic, unpredictable, witty and astoundingly articulate, she seems to bask in the publicity she draws to the University.
Behind closed doors, however, the president strips out of the jolly, bouncy persona she shows in the limelight. A University administrator who works close to the president refers to the president’s knack to transform her behavior in a matter of seconds as “her amazing ability to switch on and off.”
As Shalala dashes out of her office to make her second brief appearance at 10 a.m., she asks her personal secretary, Lucy Mascar