May 16, 2003 - Daily Press: Iran RPCV Shalala holds key to Miami's decision on College Athletics

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: May 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: May 16, 2003 - Daily Press: Iran RPCV Shalala holds key to Miami's decision on College Athletics

By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, May 17, 2003 - 6:19 pm: Edit Post

Iran RPCV Shalala holds key to Miami's decision on College Athletics

Caption: University of Miami football mascot

Read and comment on this story from the Daily Press on how the college athletic world will focus on Iran RPCV and University of Miami President Donna Shalala, Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee and the Big East Conference meetings in Ponte Vedra, Fla., this weekend where decisions there will impact the existence of the Big East and will shape the future course of Virginia Tech and Virginia athletics. Read the story at:

Shalala holds key to Miami's decision*

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Shalala holds key to Miami's decision

President tries to balance athletics with academics

By Dave Fairbank
Daily Press

Published May 16, 2003

The woman who will determine the landscape of college athletics holds football tailgate parties and played on a youth softball team coached by George Steinbrenner.

University of Miami president Donna Shalala traveled with students to the Fiesta Bowl last January for the national championship game and coached soccer in Iran during a Peace Corps assignment in the 1960s.

Shalala, who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, has a Hurricanes' bumper sticker on her VW Beetle and a deep appreciation of college athletics. Comfortable with football recruits as well as CEOs and tenured professors, she is not an academic who will leave the fate of Miami's athletic department to the recommendations of others.

"I would say she probably would be a perfect boss for an athletic director, in terms of her interest and support of athletics, and augmenting the academic mission of the institution," said Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter, who Shalala hired 14 years ago to help turn around the Badgers' program. "She basically said there's no reason a world-class institution can't have a first-class athletic program and that's the way we've operated."

The college athletic world will focus on Shalala, Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee and the Big East Conference meetings in Ponte Vedra, Fla., this weekend. Decisions there will impact the existence of the Big East and will shape the future course of Virginia Tech and Virginia athletics. The ripples eventually may be felt all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Shalala, a world-class schmoozer, has been uncharacteristically silent during the expansion frenzy. She has said nothing publicly after news broke Tuesday that the ACC voted to expand to 12 schools, with Miami, Syracuse and Boston College as the clear preferences.

Late last week she told the Miami Herald, "We have not made a decision. I have not gone to the Board of Trustees with a recommendation. We are doing an analysis now. The Big East has been very good to us, and we have to make sure we make a careful decision."

In November 2001, she told a meeting of Big East presidents, "We're committed to the Big East. You have our word. We're not going anywhere."

Shalala, a 61-year-old Cleveland native, was president of Hunter College in New York from 1980-87. She served as chancellor at Wisconsin-Madison, the first woman to serve in that capacity at a Big Ten school, from 1987-93, when Clinton tabbed her for a Cabinet position.

She served until 2000 and became the fifth president at Miami in June, 2001. While at Wisconsin, she fired the athletic director and football coach and persuaded Richter, a Badgers' alum and state athletic hero, to leave his position with Oscar Mayer to revive an athletic department that was $2.1 million in debt when she arrived.

"What she made everybody see was that successful athletics could be very compatible with the institution and provide opportunities in philanthropy," Richter said. "The window to the school is many times through the athletic department."

Richter lured Barry Alvarez from Lou Holtz's staff at Notre Dame in 1989. Five years later, the Badgers went to the first of three Rose Bowls in the past decade. Shalala met with football recruits whenever asked and let Alvarez live in the chancellor's mansion while his home was being built.

"Even though she's small in stature, when she walks into a room, you know she's there," Richter said. "She just has that kind of presence. She's right in the middle of talking to people. She touches the people she needs to touch. She's never wishy-washy in terms of any kind of decision."

Shalala aims to make Miami a world-class research institution and wants to elevate the Hurricanes' athletic program, which reportedly lost at least $1.4 million in 2001-2002, despite winning the NCAA football title.

Miami has championship-caliber programs in football and baseball and a new, on-campus, 7,000-seat convocation center for men's and women's basketball.

Shalala told the Palm Beach Post in a 2001 story before the Hurricanes' national championship win against Nebraska, "I'm a bit of a CNN junkie and I devour the newspapers, too, like everyone else, but I still read the sports page first. I did when I was in Washington. It was more soothing."

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at

Copyright © 2003, Daily Press

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