University of Miami president Dr. Julio Frenk launched his “100 Days of Listening” campaign with a town-hall style meeting in the BankUnited Center Thursday night.
Frenk used the town hall meeting to answer concerns, announce new initiatives and share his “roadmap” to success with the UM community. The university distributed more than 2,000 tickets for the event, according to Elizabeth Amore, executive director of Media Relations .
The event was moderated by Bryan Llenas, national correspondent for Fox News Channel and reporter at Fox News Latino, who graduated from UM in 2010. Stuart Miller, chair of the board of trustees, introduced the president and explained qualities the Presidential Search Committee looked for in potential candidates and how Frenk fulfilled them all.
“We embarked on a mission of finding a bold and visionary intellectual with a proven record of success as a transformational leader,” Miller said. “Our new leader had to embody the aspirations and dreams of many voices.”
Frenk took the stage to a standing ovation initiated by the section closest to the stage: the student section. The nearness of the students to the new president was reflective of Frenk’s connection-based approach to becoming familiar with the university.
Throughout his speech, he emphasized the importance of maintaining a dialogue with the university community. The “roadmap” Frenk presented had three kinds of listening at its core: intensive, immersive and iterative.
He verbalized aspirations he has fostered since being named president in April. One was the relevance of UM as an example for the larger society, as well as on a global scale.
“I see this university becoming the hemispheric and global university that we need,” Frenk said.
Also in the roadmap is his plan for continued excellence in all areas of the university, including the much-buzzed-about topic of athletics. Since the university announced Frenk as the president-elect, social media exploded with questions about the future of Hurricanes football.
Frenk did not comment on the issue until the Q&A part of the town hall meeting on Thursday night.
“Make no mistake, I also like to win,” he said.
He described athletics as an integral part of the university setting, saying it builds a sense of community and belonging, but not without poking fun at his own athleticism.
“I can’t throw and I can’t run the ball. But my main job as president is to create the conditions to ensure the success of our student-athletes, on the field and off the field,” Frenk said.
Students asked a number of questions during the Q&A about subjects such as UM’s financial accessibility, cultural diversity on campus, UHealth programs and funding at the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Several members of UPride asked Frenk about plans to make the university more welcoming for the LGBT community. Although UM has launched a task force to evaluate LGBT life on campus and propose initiatives for making it more LGBT-friendly, some students and alumni feel there is a long way to go.
Trevor MacDonell, a transgender student at UM, spoke to Frenk about the difficulty trans students face. MacDonell specifically pointed out discriminatory forms in housing, where students must identify as either male or female and he said he was not allowed to identify himself as a man.
Frenk said he has been receiving updates from the task force and announced that UM will offer gender-neutral on-campus housing as of fall 2016. He did not disclose details on whether that housing will be combined with or separate from the other residence halls.
In reference to both LGBT life and diversity of all kinds at UM, Frenk said he wanted the university to be a place of belonging, where everyone feels safe and welcome.
“I want the university of Miami to be that place, the place where all of us feel we belong,” he said.
One student told Frenk he felt excluded as an art student. He explained the major downgrades the art department has endured over the past couple of years, including the loss of the ceramics studio.
Even the on-campus Lowe Art Museum has started hosting middle school and high school exhibitions instead of those by UM students. Art students are forced to travel out of their way to reach their classes at the Rainbow building and on Levante Avenue.
Frenk sympathized with art students and recalled his own family’s relationship to art. Half of his siblings went into creative fields and the other half went into the sciences.
“I am not just respectful, but enormously appreciate of the value that the arts have in a university,” he said.
As with other situations students touched upon during the Q&A, Frenk thanked the student for bringing the struggles of the arts to his attention and promised to look into it.
He also announced a plan to visit each one of the schools and colleges within the university. To further the “vigorous dialogue,” Frenk will meet with students, faculty, administration, donors and community partners over the next 100 days.
In closing, the “Hurricane-in-Chief” (as he was called by Miller) launched a website specifically for his 100 Days of Listening where the UM community can create a forum for discussion and submit questions, concerns and suggestions. He also expressed his excitement for the coming year.
“I am super motivated. I am super pumped,” Frenk said.
Dr. Frenk’s official inauguration will follow the period of listening and will take place Jan. 29, 2016.