Frenk sets stage for second year, pivots toward action

It has been one year since President Julio Frenk took over the mantle of University of Miami’s top official from Donna E. Shalala, who held the position for 14 years. The apparent pressure of taking over from the renowned former president melted into a slew of projects and initiatives with significant input from the voices of others – students, faculty and members of the community.

In the whirlwind of his first year, President Frenk was able to make some of his lofty goals happen: creating an LGBT resource center with a full-time director; establishing a chair in atheism and the study of humanistic philosophy, the first in the nation; the opening of the Fate Bridge; and breaking ground on new facilities that will shape the academic fabric of the university for years to come.

Apart from that, President Frenk spent his first year drafting initiatives to gear the university up for its centennial year in 2025. He began by making listening to the campus community a priority. He held a town hall meeting on Sep. 10 and a 100-day listening exercise before being officially installed as the sixth president of UM in January.

After compiling the concerns and needs of the university, he formed several small groups made up of faculty, staff and students. These “quads” came up with drafts for the eight Roadmap initiatives that students and faculty received via email over the summer. The purpose of sending out the initiatives in the form of drafts was to keep the goals open to suggestions and modifications.

The initiatives, sent weekly from the Office of the President, are:

  • 100 Talents – Plans to add 100 endowed chairs
  • Hemispheric University Consortium – a strategy to enable UM to collaborate and build knowledge and capacity with other organizations across the hemisphere
  • Basic and Applied Science and Engineering – plans to advance UM as a world leader in the sciences and engineering
  • University-Wide Platform for Educational Innovation – proposes new ideas to enhance teaching and learning by creating more participatory learning experiences for students and faculty
  • Hemispheric Innovation Hub – capitalizing on a unique geographic position in the hemisphere, situated to bridge the boundaries of cultures, nationalities and disciplines
  • Problem-based Interdisciplinary Collaboration – a set of proposals to encourage even more collaborative work at UM to solve critical global problems.
  • Access with Excellence – an initiative to ensure that students of all backgrounds have equal access to the many academic opportunities that the University of Miami has to offer
  • Culture of Belonging – which explores strategies to deepen a campus environment where all members of the University community feel valued and can add value

“We want to pivot to implementing these ideas and the grand dream is by 2025. We will celebrate our 100th birthday and by then, we hope these actually happen,” President Frenk told student media in a meeting on August 19. “The celebration of our centennial would be that we already implemented these ideas.”

Frenk said there will also be nine town hall meetings throughout the semester to have more face-to-face consultation, and to formulate a package of proposals that will be presented to the Board of Trustees. The town halls will be held on the Coral Gables campus, at the Miller School of Medicine and at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

For his first year, President Frenk told student media that he was more dedicated to learning the needs of the students to help deliver them. He said his second year will be focused on action.

“The first year in any position is always very different, you are learning, getting to know things … I want to pivot to the implementation of those initiatives. We are finalizing the consultation period of the Roadmap to the new century.”

He spoke to student media about some of the initiatives, emphasizing the 100 Talents and Culture of Belonging as key goals for the university.

“The first part is the faculty and we set a very ambitious goal to not only recruit 100 people but to create 100 endowed positions; that is a very big challenge. Endowment is what makes great universities great,” President Frenk said. “The key for any university is the people, it’s a people’s business. There are very talented students who want devoted staff.”

He also spoke about his experience as a student and how finding the right mentor helped him determine where to pursue his further studies.

“In my personal experience as a student, I selected the university I wanted for my graduate studies based on the individual faculty member I wanted to study with,” President Frenk said. “Mentorship is crucial, the heart and soul of the university.”

Diversity also plays a strong part in President Frenk’s goals on “three levels” — the personal level, institutional level and the societal level.

“Personally, I embody diversity. I have multiple identities from different minorities in my own background. Being the first Hispanic president is important … it symbolizes that the trustees in selecting me, had diversity as a top priority.”

At the institutional level, he stressed that diversity is critical for the educational experience in the university, to expose students to different people that will prepare them for the working world.

“Our students are graduating into a world that is very diverse,” President Frenk said. “It is crucial to live and learn of students who look different from you, think different from you, a different accent and different origin will prepare [students] better for the world.”

And for the societal level, he hopes the university can create an environment of equal opportunity and set that precedent for itself and institutions around the country.

“A big function is for a university to serve as a vehicle for upward social mobility,” President Frenk said. “That means giving opportunity to groups that have been traditionally discriminated against or excluded, and you do that with proactive outreach to give talented people the opportunity to come here.”

Results were evident with the incoming class. After committing to enrolling and matriculating the highest percentage of black students among peer institutions, the university met its goal: 10 percent of the freshman class were black students.

John Haller, vice president of enrollment management, told The Miami Hurricane that creating a diverse environment was President Frenk’s priority.

“He is a wonderful listener and has some incredible visions and aspirations for the university to have, which applies directly to us in enrollment management,” Haller said. “This helps foster a culture of inclusiveness.”

Karen Long, the assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions, said working with President Frenk gave the Office of Undergraduate Admissions a clear direction.

“The way he articulates the university’s unique position is very helpful to us as we go out and explain to guidance counselors and high school families what UM is all about,” Long said.

It is President Frenk’s attention to students that appealed to Ashley Pittaluga, vice president of Student Government (SG).

“I think he’s really great, one thing I really respect about him is how he eased his way into campus, he’s really become a part of the students and student body, he didn’t rush anything and he didn’t do anything too forceful too quickly,” Pittaluga said. “I think that’s really important and he’s done a great job in slowly incorporating himself and there will be great changes in his time here.

SG Treasurer Morgan Owens praised President Frenk for his initiative of creating 100 more endowed chairs. Owens’ mother is Traci Ardren, chair of anthropology at UM.

“I see the academic side of the faculty and they try very hard but they also need more resources,” Owens said. “Endowed chairs are a great way to make sure that students have access to interesting, unique, cool faculty who are excited to be doing what they are doing and have the time to do their own research that keeps them excited. That will really change the field of academics at UM.”

It was President Frenk’s intensive listening exercise, however, that Owens liked the most. After several students spoke out, advocating for more LGBT resources at the first town hall meeting, the Frenk administration set out to make a change and now there is an LGBT center and a full-time director.

“To see that progress made so quickly, as soon as he arrived, is incredible and everything he did throughout the year and his proposed Roadmap initiatives are very encouraging,” Owens said.

In an email President Frenk sent to the UM community on Aug. 16 – his first anniversary at UM – he wrote about his first year experience, likening it to being a freshman and saying he is poised to make a difference for the university.

“I felt somewhat like a first-year student, excited about the remarkable university I was now a part of, a bit daunted about how much I had to learn, and eager to get underway and make a difference in my new community.”