Donna Shalala, the former Clinton Cabinet secretary who brought dynamism and seasoned leadership to the Clinton Foundation after leaving the helm of the University of Miami, is returning to Miami and teaching — full time.
After a two-year stint amid a bruising U.S. presidential campaign for the Clintons, Shalala, 76, called it a wrap Tuesday as president and chief executive of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Her departure coincides with former President Bill Clinton’s announcement that he will take on the chairmanship of the board of directors. Shalala will also be a member of the board.
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“Donna did a fabulous job,” Clinton said, according to a written record of remarks he made during a Tuesday staff meeting in New York. “She brought us instant credibility, represented us well and, through her leadership, helped our programs continue to improve the lives of millions of people.”
Shalala, who maintained a condo in Coral Gables while working at the foundation, said: “It’s been a great sabbatical.”
She’s a tenured professor at the University of Miami, where she has an endowed chair, and took a leave of absence in 2015 to work for the foundation as an unpaid volunteer.
“It was never a career change for me,” said Shalala, who has a Ph.D. in political science and still commuted between New York and Miami to teach her “Politics and Economics of Healthcare” class on a part-time basis at UM.
“It was very exciting. I learned a lot in the process. I’ve never wanted to run a foundation, and I don’t think I ever want to run one ever again,” she said. “But this was a very interesting time and a fascinating foundation. It was fun to work with [Bill Clinton] and Chelsea again.”
A former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, Shalala left her role as UM president in 2015 after 14 years. During her tenure, she transformed the university from a beer-and-party school to one with a global reach, raising billions of dollars in the process.
Her leadership, reputation and years of working with the Clintons led them to tap her to run their family’s philanthropic organization while they focused on Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
“It was the perfect segue for me to get out of town, to give them some help during the campaign,” Shalala said. “I had nothing to do with the campaign, but I was able to lead the foundation and do some things that needed to be done. It was fun.”
Founded in 1997 while Bill Clinton was still president, the foundation has raised about $2 billion for initiatives ranging from the opioid crisis and healthcare in the United States to empowering women and girls in Africa and Haiti.
Still, during the presidential campaign, the foundation’s work came under attack. It was criticized for accepting millions of dollars from foreign governments during Hillary Clinton’s stint as secretary of state. Donald Trump, who emerged as the winner over Clinton in 2016, repeatedly accused her of being corrupted by the foundation’s donations.
The foundation defended the organization’s work in the United States and in the developing world. Bill Clinton called the attacks “unprecedented” and “misleading or outright false.” Still, the foundation last year announced it would review fundraising practices.
Under Shalala’s leadership, it also reviewed programs for appropriateness in case Hillary Clinton became president. Among the programs ended at that time: the Clinton Global Initiative, which brought world and business leaders to New York every fall to tackle development challenges in countries like Haiti, where the foundation was active.
“CGI, had run its course,” Shalala said, noting that its ending was one of the few low moments of her time at the foundation.
In the case of Haiti, it was decided that the foundation’s work would be spun off and continued under the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, founded by actor Sean Penn following the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake with support from the Digicel Foundation.
Bill Clinton, Shalala said, is rethinking all of the programs and “will lead an effort on what international commitments the Clinton Foundation will make for the next generation of … initiatives.”
The foundation’s new approach, like its expanded health work domestically, makes Shalala feel like she’s stepping down at the right time. The new acting president and CEO is Kevin Thurm, who worked with her in the Clinton administration.
“My strength is restructuring institutions,” she said. “I was able to do that, and that allows the [former] president and Chelsea to really plan for some new initiatives.”
Earlier this year, Bill Clinton announced that despite the outcome of the election, the path forward would still be based on the review that the foundation undertook of its own work.
On his new role as chairman, Clinton said Tuesday: “This has been my life for the last 16 years, and I want to send a clear signal that we’re serious about continuing our work which, I believe, is now more important than ever.”
Shalala, who suffered a stroke in 2015 after a Clinton Global Initiative meeting, said that her health is great and that she’s leaving the foundation “in very good shape.”
But she’s not stepping out of the fast lane, she said Tuesday, as she prepared to fly from Miami to New York, where she was to attend a fundraiser for UM and introduce Chelsea Clinton at the City Harvest Banquet that evening.
In addition to her full-time job in academia, Shalala sits on several commissions, including one on military health in Washington, D.C., and two corporate boards, Florida-based Lennar Corporation and Mednax, a national medical group founded by physicians. She has trips planned to Aspen and Africa.
“I’ve been running things for years, so having the time to go off with my friends to Africa for three weeks is incredible,” she said. “I am able to do things now that I was never able to take huge blocks of time off to do.”
▪ Personal: Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Feb. 14, 1941. Peace Corp volunteer in Iran, 1962-1964.
▪ Education: A.B. in history, Western College for Women, 1962. Ph.D., The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 1970. More than three dozen honorary degrees and a host of honors, including the 1992 National Public Service Award.
▪ Professional: President and Chief Executive Officer, Clinton Foundation, 2015-2017.
▪ Higher education: President, University of Miami, 2001-2015. Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987-1993. President, Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY), 1980-1987. Tenured professorships at Columbia University, CUNY, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
▪ Public Service: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 1993-2001. Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1977-1980.
▪ Board Positions: More than 30, including: Director, Gannett Co., UnitedHealth Group, Lennar Corp. Trustee, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (emeritus). Member, Performing Arts Center Foundation of Greater Miami.
Miami Herald files