Opinion, Shalala

President Donna E. Shalala’s inauguration marked university’s true beginning

Common knowledge would say that the University of Miami was established in 1925 – I disagree.

While a lot has happened on this campus over the decades since then, the University of Miami from which I will graduate next year was announced on Nov. 2, 2001, when newly inaugurated President Donna Shalala outlined her standards clearly and boldly.

“Excellence in the university… must be our only goal,” Shalala said in her address to the campus.

Titling her speech “Miami es el Mundo,” she declared that the university “will attract the most promising students and gifted teacher-scholars and clinicians from every corner of the globe, and the university will be a place of international citizenship.”

The notion that our school could be globally reputable dates back to Shalala’s predecessor Tad Foote, who wanted UM to become “The Stanford of the South.” But Shalala didn’t see this ideal as an ambitious dream. Rather, academic excellency was a standard to live by.

It’s easy enough to go through a handful of the school’s notable transformations since 2001.

Freshman SAT scores are up 125 points between math and reading sections. Research grants have increased by more than $100 million a year. The school has led not one, but two separate billion-dollar “Momentum” fundraising campaigns, and total endowment has doubled.

All of these numbers elucidate a larger narrative.

In 2001, President Shalala could have taken any job she wanted, and she turned down offers at different schools, private industries and even a gig as a New York Times columnist to come to the University of Miami. This was a small, unambitious school in a tropical, upstart city.

But Shalala saw the positive potential in that.

This narrative is reflected by individual students as well. I know veritable geniuses that chose UM over Ivy League schools because the university was willing to invest financial aid in potential leaders. I know students who never thought they had a chance to graduate from UM, but the school still took a chance on them.

Shalala will leave this campus enormously enriched, not only with funds, but also with talent and academic potential.

As Provost Thomas LeBlanc once explained to me, a university is nothing else if not a collection of its talent and intelligence.

While Shalala is often regarded as a successful fundraiser for our school, money is only a part of a wider vision,  one that can be summed up best through one word – excellence.

The word Shalala chose during in inaugural speech suitably describes both her ability as a leader and her legacy at UM.

Thank you, President Shalala.

Patrick Quinlan is a junior majoring in political science and international studies.

April 23, 2015


Patrick Quinlan

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