Before President Donna E. Shalala, the University of Miami had largely been a local commuter school whose claim to any larger fame was through its athletics program. While her predecessors set the ball rolling for change, Shalala launched both the school’s academic reputation and student experience to new heights.
Shalala’s biggest asset to UM was her fundraising capacity, and the $3 billion raised by the Momentum campaigns will forever be her biggest mark on the school’s history.
However, beyond the large-scale structural changes that have resulted from these funds, Shalala’s personal attitude and determination have left equally tangible impacts on campus.
Hailed as one of the most student-centered presidents in the nation, Shalala’s care and attention to the undergraduate experience is palpable in our everyday lives.
Campus life is vibrant and diverse, with new student events occurring every day. Renowned speakers from all backgrounds, from President Obama to Maya Angelou, have been brought to campus as educational opportunities beyond the classroom.
The grounds are more livable, filled with gliders, student lounges and finals hammocks where students can convene and relax. Years after Shalala is gone, incoming freshmen will enjoy new, community-oriented residential colleges made possible by her initiatives.
Shalala listened to student concerns. She joined protests, proudly attended organizations’ events and cheered louder than anyone at athletic games. Shalala was a president that did not lead from above us, but rather among us.
Half a century after serving in the Peace Corps, the civically-minded academic and public servant is still comfortable getting her hands dirty in order to connect with people on the ground.
Her commitment to service served as an inspiration for her students; the increase in student civic engagement through the Butler Center is a testament to that.
While not all of Shalala’s decisions during her tenure have been popular, the long-lasting positive impact she has left on the U should outweigh perceived missteps.
Making necessary and tough choices entails sacrifices and ruffled feathers. Yet, the bigger picture Shalala has skillfully crafted is a masterpiece for the ages, even with stains on the canvas.
For these past four years, we have admired Shalala closely and are grateful for the time and effort she has invested in us. The other lives she has touched can speak for themselves.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.