As Shalala steps down, university community reflects on president’s legacy

Photo Courtesy UM Media
Photo Courtesy UM Media

Donna E. Shalala will be stepping down as president of the University of Miami at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

However, she plans to return to the faculty as a professor of political science and health policy, according to a university press release.

Shalala made the announcement Monday in a Dialogue email sent to the university community.

“A long time ago a friend advised me to always leave a job when you still love it,” Shalala wrote. “That is certainly the case here.”

Shalala’s successor will be appointed by a Presidential Search Committee headed by Richard D. Fain, chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, according to Stuart A. Miller, chair of the UM Board of Trustees.

“This will be an inclusive process and will seek valuable input from the greater University of Miami community,” Miller wrote in a statement sent to the university community.

Senior Hila Sachs said she was surprised and upset by the news, but she believes Shalala will continue to be committed throughout the remainder of her tenure.

“She made the school what it is today and I feel bad for the freshmen that just came in because they won’t have the same great experience that I did,” said Sachs, a member of the President’s 100 organization. “I think she’ll still be extremely committed, and I think she’s going to make this year the greatest yet.”

Shalala, who previously served as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) under former President Bill Clinton, said that one of the best aspects of her job as UM president has been living in Miami.

“This great community is maddening, delightful and limitless in its vitality and promise,” she wrote. “We have worked hard to be good neighbors and civic leaders.”

Shalala became president of UM on June 1, 2001. Throughout her tenure, she helped raise the university’s U.S. News and World Report ranking. UM reached an all-time high at No. 38 in 2012.

Student-centered president

Patricia Whitely, vice president of student affairs, said that she believes Shalala has always been a student-centered president.

“She has changed our student culture in ways that we could not have ever imagined,” Whitely said.

Part of this student-centered approach is Shalala’s commitment to student leaders, according to Whitely.

Student Government (SG) President Alessandria San Roman and the executive board are planning a going-away event in the spring to commemorate Shalala’s legacy.

“Shalala is a large part of UM history and an indelible mark on our campus,” San Roman said.

No specific dates have been set for the event, according to San Roman, but she hopes to keep all student organizations involved in a “memorable going-away celebration.”

Shalala launched the Momentum fundraising campaign in 2003, which raised about $1.4 billion to support scholarships, research and facility improvements. The Momentum 2 campaign, which launched in 2012, seeks to raise $1.6 billion by 2016 – meaning Shalala will have been part of the effort to raise a total of $3 billion for the university.

On the Humans of UM Facebook page last spring, Shalala urged alumni – one of Momentum’s primary donor sources – to continue to show their support for the university.

“[Alumni] should give back so other students get to go to school,” she said on the Facebook page.

Humans of UM is modeled after the Humans of New York website created by Brandon Stanton in 2010.

Multiple hats

Aside from her role as president and fundraiser, Shalala is also an educator. She was appointed a professor of political science in 2001.

She has taught a course offered every spring semester focusing on the politics and economics of health care, featuring guests such as Clinton.

Senior Caroline Levens took the course during her sophomore year. A public relations major, she appreciated being able to integrate political science and medicine into her undergraduate education.

“I sat in the front row so I could interact with her before class began,” Levens said. “I loved how she incorporated her professional experience as Secretary of Health and Human Services into the class. It made it much more entertaining, meaningful and memorable.”

Shalala’s relationship with the Clintons extends beyond her post as HHS secretary. In 2010, UM hosted the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), an annual meeting where students and global leaders come together to address social issues around the world.

Clinton and his daughter Chelsea will return to UM a second time to host CGIU in March, making UM the only university to host the event more than once.

Outside of the classroom, the university community has been able to engage with many other high-profile guests that Shalala has brought to campus, including notable dignitaries and thinkers from all over the world.

During the 2012 presidential election, Univision, a Hispanic news outlet, hosted a debate between President Barack Obama and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Before that, the Coral Gables campus held a live broadcast of the George W. Bush-John Kerry presidential debate in 2004.

Prior to arriving at UM, Shalala was chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1987 to 1993 and president of Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1980 to 1987. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Western College for Women, which was located in Oxford, Ohio and remained active until 1974 when it merged with Miami University.

Shalala also earned a doctorate in public affairs from Syracuse University in 1970 and has honorary degrees from schools including New York Law School, Princeton University and the University of Michigan.