A conversation with the president

University of Miami President Donna Shalala spoke about personal influences, politics and gave a few words of advice to students at the Council for Democracy meeting Tuesday. “A Personal Conversation with Donna Shalala” created a forum between students and their president and was based on a question-and-answer session.

Dan Kalvig, vice president of the Council for Democracy, started the question session by asking Shalala to name her political role models. Among them were President Woodrow Wilson, a fellow college president who fought for international peace and President John F. Kennedy, whom Shalala credited as being responsible for her joining the Peace Corps in 1962.

Also a topic of the conversation was Shalala’s eight years in the Clinton administration as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She was the only member of Clinton’s cabinet to serve the full two terms.

“[President Clinton is the] smartest politician that I know personally,” Shalala said. “He always had a book in his hands. He loved a good debate. He would sit and talk to people.” One of her major accomplishments as HHS secretary was making sure that most children are fully vaccinated by the age of three, she said. Shalala was also instrumental in initiating the carding system to stop underage smoking. The president emphasized that sometimes in public policy you lose the big battle but win in the long-run with a cumulative set of small victories that change attitudes.

“Networking makes the difference,” Shalala said, adding that in order to get ahead in politics, students should work in campaigns, remember the people that they work with and keep in touch with people.

In terms of the University, Shalala spoke about her goals to make UM more affordable to middle-class families through more grants and scholarships and increasing scholarships for upper-level students. On the subject of education, she felt that the real test is whether the college education prepares the student for life twenty years into the future.

University current events were also a topic of conversation. Regarding the Unicco living wage campaign, Shalala said she could not comment, saying that the University plans on staying neutral in the issue.

A big reaction was heard from the audience when Shalala responded to what she would want to accomplish as President of the United States of America: she said she would eliminate all college tuitions. Her desire would also be to provide universal health care.

Shalala also had advice for the UM students. She believes that students in college should make friends for a lifetime. She also suggested that they take a course in a subject that currently holds no interest to them, as a way to broaden their horizons.

“I think it was really successful,” said Alejandro Callirgos, executive director of Council of Democracy, after the event. “The whole title was a personal conversation, and she had said she preferred being more personal with the students, which she was.”

Melissa Dore can be contacted at m.dore@umiami.edu.