It is difficult to think of a university president without thinking about athletics. The presence of the president at sporting events is as important as the quarterback to a football team, a bat to a home-run hitter or a deep pool to a diver.
President Donna E. Shalala has been the UM Athletics’ biggest supporter, according to Athletic Director Blake James.
“Though her departure will be a loss, we are a better university because of her,” James said in a statement.
Though Shalala has been a champion for UM athletics, she has also demonstrated the ability to rise above controversy.
She began her presidency on a high note. Canes Football won its fifth national championship a few months after her inauguration as UM’s fifth president. Since then, the Canes have left the Orange Bowl, moved the football games to Sun Life Stadium and dealt with an NCAA investigation.
The move from the Orange Bowl struck a sad chord with fans. The stadium was in desperate need of renovations and when the plans fell through, Shalala was forced to make the executive decision to relocate to the Miami Dolphins’ home.
Senior Amber Couzo, who has been attending UM football games since before the move, remembers the energy at the Orange Bowl. She grew up a mile away from the stadium.
“You could feel the stadium rumble,” she said. “There was so much history there.”
The Orange Bowl was demolished in 2008.
Since then, the football program is still shaking off the stigma of an investigation that went on for more than two years after former booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro went public about Miami’s violation of NCAA rules.
Shalala was adamant about compliance with the NCAA in its investigation. The university took full responsibility and self-imposed bowl bans from 2011 to 2013 to lessen the blow at the conclusion of the investigation.
When it was revealed that the NCAA had improperly handled the investigation, Shalala stood up for her institution that she felt was being bullied.
“Many of the charges brought forth are based on the word of a man who made a fortune by lying,” Shalala said in a statement. “The NCAA enforcement staff acknowledged to the university that if Nevin Shapiro, a convicted con man, said something more than once, it considered the allegation ‘corroborated’ – an argument which is both ludicrous and counter to legal practice”
On campus, Shalala raised money to support the athletic program, which included the opening of the Schwartz Athletic Center in 2013, providing amenities that put the university on par with other top athletic institutions in the country.