2006.04.30: April 30, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Iran: University Administration: Sun-Sentinel.com: A Conversation with Donna Shalala

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A Conversation with Donna Shalala

A Conversation with Donna Shalala

Question. What is your vision for UM going forward? Answer. Quality. Quality. Quality. To basically build on what [former university President] Tad Foote had already done, but to move us up into the top ranks of American research universities without in any way weakening our undergraduate commitment. In fact, it will strengthen our undergraduate commitment. Undergraduates will come here to study with people who are writing books and articles and doing research that is in other people's textbooks.

0,2557414.story?coll=sfla-news-editorial, A Conversation with Donna Shalala

Face to Face: A Conversation with Donna Shalala

Posted April 30 2006

University of Miami president discusses her tenure and her hopes for her "Caines."

Q. UM has relationships up in Palm Beach, Broward counties. What is the university's interest north of Coral Gables?

A. Well, we have always gone north. That is, we have the Sylvester Cancer Center in Deerfield Beach. We're in Palm Beach with the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. So we've always had some involvement. We came up with the idea of expanding the medical school. We really didn't have space where we are now located to add more students to the medical school. So we approached, originally, two institutions -- Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University -- to see if they were interested.

FAU took us up on it. FIU wanted their own medical school. But FAU immediately saw the genius of being able to get a medical school program to build on the science they already had, and to have UM basically offer degrees up there in a joint effort.

… We have long wanted a teaching hospital [in Palm Beach County], a community hospital, to work with local community doctors in a teaching setting. It looks like it's going to work.

And we have alums up there, we obviously have prominent members of our Board of Trustees who are involved with Boca Raton Community Hospital … We also have a new initiative in Palm Beach which will be a public health institute … So there are a number of initiatives.

We see ourselves as an institution in South Florida. We will not be offering undergraduate degrees [at those programs] any time soon, but for these graduate programs it makes sense to work in a public-private partnership. And Frank Brogan has been a wonderful partner.

Q. You've just raised $1 billion. What new initiatives in Broward or Palm Beach, related to medical programs, do you foresee?

A. Sylvester Cancer Center and Bascom Palmer obviously have raised, the Sylvesters are in fact from that area, and they've encouraged us to go up there. And Bascom Palmer has long had a center and is about to open a new center in Palm Beach in a fabulous new building for us, where we'll be able to do almost everything up there so people do not have to come down here to access the best eye clinic in the world …

The billion-dollar campaign, which, of course, we have completed the first billion, 60 percent of which went to the medical school, while it wasn't all endowment it was an effort to create world-class medicine in South Florida. So all these partnerships are investments by people in our communities, in the South Florida communities, to make sure we have world-class science and world-class medicine.

Q. I think people are surprised at how quickly you raised the money. What got it done so fast?

A. A little bit of everything. The other thing is, after 9-11 a lot of people put off their campaigns, but we decided to go ahead. We think we surprised a lot of people. I was not surprised. The wealth was clearly here … and it wasn't simply a well-organized, well-managed campaign, though we obviously had that. It was other things that were going on, the building of a world-class medical program and research program, the strength of our undergraduate program and the fact that it was moving up very rapidly in rankings. It's very difficult to get into the University of Miami these days. Everything was working in concert, but at the end of the day you have to have a product to sell. As I indicated, people invest in quality and invest in excellence and that was the story that we told.

Q. What is your vision for UM going forward?

A. Quality. Quality. Quality. To basically build on what [former university President] Tad Foote had already done, but to move us up into the top ranks of American research universities without in any way weakening our undergraduate commitment. In fact, it will strengthen our undergraduate commitment. Undergraduates will come here to study with people who are writing books and articles and doing research that is in other people's textbooks.

Q. How do you get there?

A. You have a strategy. You have a strategy to get better. And you shrewdly invest your money in groups of people and in programs that make the institution better.

Q. Are there programs you would like to see bigger?

A. I'm sure there are a lot of programs. The most important thing for us is to break down the walls between the disciplines, whether it's in science or in the humanities. Research these days is interdisciplinary. It's the way in which we are organized that we need to loosen up on. It's more apparent in science than in the other disciplines …

Q. There's a debate going in Tallahassee about relevance in education. People are asking why, in a 21st-century technological world, kids should study, say, literature or art history. What is your response?

A. Well, first of all, I think it's a nonsense discussion because we also want a civilized population. A population that can think and write and that understands the world as we know it now, but also can absorb the world of the future. I suppose there were people a decade ago that didn't understand the importance of studying different religions, including Islam.

We're preparing young people not for their first job, but for their third or their fourth job. We're preparing them not for this decade, but for two decades or three decades from now. We don't know precisely what they need to know, but we know the quality of minds that they are going to have.

They are going to have to understand history, absorb new technologies. They are going to have to be respectful of other cultures. They are going to have to understand the poetry as well as the technology of the future.

So it's a huge mistake to educate for tomorrow, literally, as opposed to two or three decades from now. Governments and institutions that make that mistake may get students that make a lot of money, but the real test of our education is a student 30 years from now that sees things that they can apply that they've learned here.

Q. UM, and other private colleges, have sought an increase in the Florida Resident Assistance Grant. Why?

A. I think the Legislature recognizes that in fact it's a good investment. It's Florida kids that want to go to private universities, which is a much cheaper investment than creating new slots at public institutions. But we're also partners with public institutions. And it's one system of higher education, even though one is governed by the state and by the Legislature and another gets some resources, public resources.

In higher education, we've always had public and private. They've always worked together. Look at the partnership between us and FIU in the area of European studies. Or the partnership in medicine with FAU. Or the partnership in nursing with St. Thomas.

We have a number of science partnerships with the other major research universities, with the University of Florida, with Florida State University. We look for opportunities to work together. All of these investments create a better economy and high-quality jobs for people who move here, but more importantly, for young people who grow up in Florida and want an opportunity to stay here.

Q. UM also has -- unsuccessfully -- sought sovereign immunity status. Why?

A. We're the only private medical school in the country that does not have sovereign immunity when it practices medicine in a public hospital. Every other private medical school that helps patients, low-income patients, and practices medicine in a public hospital has sovereign immunity. We, in fact, subsidize our county through our practice of medicine. We're making a financial contribution and we need sovereign immunity to make it an even playing field for our doctors.

Q. The trial lawyers oppose it…

A. Well, they make a lot of money out of the present system as it is now organized.

Q. Can you overcome their opposition?

A. I don't have an answer to that question.

Q. Do you have support from the medical associations?

A. We have considerable support … but the most important thing is that you cannot expect private doctors to practice medicine in a public hospital without protection. Or at least without an investment to protect that. And, at the moment, we are in some financial difficulty practicing medicine at Jackson [Memorial Hospital] unless we get relief. And Jackson is working hard with us as a partner to make sure we stay there.

Q. Why are contract talks with the janitors and custodial workers at a stalemate?

A. I don't think it's a stalemate because it's our contractor. But I do think it's appropriate for the universities in this state to set standards for their outside contractors. In this case, the market has moved dramatically. Our contractors are clearly having trouble attracting people because the jobs don't look as good compared to other jobs and we needed to reset our standards. And that's what we did, both in terms of health care, health insurance actually, as well as wages.

In the case of the health area, we were already providing access to a system that we heavily subsidize, access to our own doctors and to the clinics in our own community. It wasn't working as well as we had hoped. I think that the argument that we should be providing health insurance is a serious one. And we in fact decided that that should be part of the new standards.

Q. There are folks who look at the $1 billion endowment fund and ask why UM can't cut the janitors a good deal. Is that a fair way to look at it?

A. No, probably not. We ought to be paying market wages because that's what we need to pay for faculty or for people that clean our buildings. The fact is the market has caught up with us. We needed to reset this and reset our standards and that's exactly what we did.

Q. There's a lot of competition from other Florida universities for talented students. How does UM compete?

A. That's interesting. We actually have a national market. The majority of our students come from outside the state. We do compete for very good Florida students. And that's really a scholarship issue. If they can afford to come, we'll get them. So if we can put enough scholarship money together we'll get a great student from Florida. But many of the students we're trying to recruit get a free ride at the state institutions. So we have to make sure that we are financially competitive for the best students in Florida. We'll always get a certain number of students from Florida. For us, though, we want to get people that are not simply able to pay but that are the best students also…

Q. Does the college prepaid tuition program help you?

A. It does. But so does FRAG. We put a package together for a Florida kid taking the prepaid, the FRAG, and then making up the difference with scholarship investments, with donor money.

Q. You served in President Clinton's Cabinet. You know the potential 2008 candidates, including Gov. Bill Richardson. Does Hillary Clinton have a chance?

A. The one thing I learned after eight years in government is that you cannot predict three years from now. I have no idea whether she's going to run … I like them all, and obviously we've been friends for many years. These are very attractive people. I have no idea who the Republicans are going to run. It's too early to tell. But it's fascinating watching and it's fun for me -- because I teach politics -- to see what students' reactions are.

Interviewed by Editorial Writer Antonio Fins

When this story was posted in July 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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