The importance of being President Donna E. Shalala

Freshmen need not feel alone when they arrive on campus in the fall.

“I’m a senior, but I’m not graduating. I liked my freshman year so much that I’m starting all over again,” said University President Donna E. Shalala, who came to UM in 2001 and will be on her fifth year this semester.

In those years, she’s changed the University for the better, bringing the school into the national spotlight when the 2004 Presidential Debate was held at the Convocation Center in September, when the Dalai Lama visited campus and when the Hurricane football team became national champion in 2001. Amid all this recognition, Dr. Shalala has improved the University where it counts the most-academics.

“I really feel that the University has gotten better, academically and socially,” she said. “It’s a better University after four years. We’re making progress. Everyone wants their degree to become more valuable.”

Dr. Shalala has been a leader since before she arrived at UM. She served as President of Hunter College of CUNY from 1980 to 1987 and as Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1987 to 1993.

In 1993 she became the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Clinton administration and served for eight years, the longest serving HHS Secretary in U.S. history.

Now, as president of the University of Miami, Dr. Shalala oversees everything and everyone at the school.

“I’m in charge of everything but I don’t do everything myself,” she admits. “I have very talented colleagues and deans. But I try to know everything and I try to see the University from the point of view of the students. So they won’t be surprised to see me at the student section at football games.”

In fact, Dr. Shalala makes it a point to be there for the students.

“Listening to the students is the most important thing a president can do,” she says. When students have a problem or need advice, they often email her for help.

Her goals for the University emphasize the students’ needs and the constant improvement of the quality of education. Being at UM, Dr. Shalala feels that students have an advantage.

“The University is so diverse. There are people here from all over the world so you get a real world education,” she says. “And the faculty really cares about students. We pride ourselves on good teaching.”

For students who are new to the University, Dr. Shalala offers a few words of advice.

“Be open to new ideas. Take courses in areas that you have no interest in,” she says. “We’re trying to educate for the future, not just the first job. Ten years from now that course might be useful, so take courses with professors that have a completely different opinion from you. It’s good preparation for having an open mind.”

Students can reach President Shalala at

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at