University of Miami President Donna Shalala Is On the Move


$2,000,000,000. That’s the amount of funding University of Miami President Donna Shalala has raised for the institution over the past 14 years. And, she’s gone far beyond that. Shalala advanced the university’s ranking into the nation’s top 50 colleges and universities, developed UM’s medical and research profiles and recruited world-class students, including several Rhodes scholars. Under her leadership, UM’s notorious nickname, Suntan U, has faded away, as the university is now considered one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Florida.Shalala Inauguration 2

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, Shalala surprised many of her supporters and the UM community with a retirement announcement. But Shalala isn’t retiring in any traditional sense of the word. She definitely won’t be putting on the greens of South Florida golf courses for long, though she is an avid golfer. She does intend to take a nine- to 12-month break, as she does between every career transition.

“I leave jobs when they get too easy. I like challenges, and this job isn’t challenging anymore. But I’m not going to retire,” says Shalala. “I’ll take a break for a year because I need some time off, and I need to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”Shalala at Prez Debate Announcement

During her yearlong hiatus, Shalala plans to vacation in Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas she loves and visited on business a few years ago. She’ll also enjoy sleeping in—a simple pleasure she’s rarely enjoyed during her time at UM—and she’ll make more time for good books. Her reading lists includes The New York Times Best Seller, Worthy Fights, memoir by former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, and a classic management book by Peter Drucker called Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

And like most people with ties to a university, no one truly says goodbye to a school. During her break, Shalala will research and prepare for the courses she’ll “probably” teach next fall at UM’s School of Business Administration. “I’m going to think through the course content, but I’ll focus on some aspect of health policy. Everyone’s talking about the cost of health care.”

The biggest speculation about Shalala’s next career move has been in regards to her involvement with close friend and former White House colleague, Hillary Clinton. Shalala served alongside the Clintons as the Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1993-2001, the longest anyone has ever held that position. Many believe that Clinton visited Shalala in February to discuss future plans of presidential campaigning, under the guise of a speaking engagement for UM students. Shalala confirms that she might support Clinton, but that it is highly unlikely she will return to Washington D.C.

“There might be potential to partner [with Hillary Clinton] but first she has to decide what she wants to do. The one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t plan your life around going back to Washington,” says Shalala.

During the last 14 years, Shalala has learned that personal leadership grows according to specific, organizational needs. Her work in creating a cultural shift at UM required her to be a great listener and to create consensus around systemic strategies. “Communication is extremely important. I trust my instincts and I also trust the people I work with. [I’ve learned] you can’t jump on every issue and that you need both long-term and short-term strategies to create momentum,” says Shalala.

Shalala says that the work she needed to do at UM was very obvious and that her successor’s work will be more nuanced. “The world is changing under our feet. UM’s next leader is going to have a full agenda, particularly if the institution wants to keep improving,”

Shalala remains vague and non-committal about any definitive, future career plans. Her office staff erupted into laughter when she said, “When I tell people I don’t know what’s next, they don’t believe me.” What Shalala does know for certain is that she “likes to make institutions better.” Her track record makes that statement entirely believable. —Julie Fahnestock

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