It begins today for Julio Frenk.
You might not recognize his name — yet. But you will soon enough.
Dr. Frenk will be officially installed Friday as the University of Miami’s sixth president during an inauguration ceremony at the BankUnited Center on campus. He will now chart the future of the 90-year-old private Coral Gables institution.
Dr. Frenk, 62, assumed one of Miami-Dade’s most influential and prestigious leadership positions in August. For decades, those who have led the University of Miami have been among this county’s most prominent citizens in terms of improving the intellectual and cultural well-being of the community. That will no doubt be true for Dr. Frenk, as well.
Dr. Frenk recently met with the Miami Herald Editorial Board to outline an ambitious agenda that builds on the success of his immediate predecessor, Donna Shalala, who raised $3 billion and enhanced the school’s profile as a national academic and research institution. He is well aware that he becomes a voice and a representative for the entire community, working with other major institutions of higher learning in South Florida to promote its academic standing.
The UM Board of Trustees, chaired by Stuart Miller, selected Dr. Frenk from among many prominent candidates because he possesses a wealth of talents. His stellar résumé includes a medical degree, as well as a dual Ph.D. He is a world authority on public health and has served as dean of the Harvard School of Public Health from 2009-2015, as well as minister of health in Mexico, where he was born. Dr. Frenk is the son of German-Jewish immigrants who escaped Nazi persecution and today can be celebrated as UM’s first Hispanic president — a perfect fit for a community that prides itself on its diversity.
He also comes with a fresh, millennial world awareness that being a university president today can no longer be done from the ivory tower. Students have a say in their collegiate life like never before. Smartly, Dr. Frenk began his tenure by staging a “100 Days of Listening” exercise on and off campus. He says he got a useful earful.
The goals cited by Dr. Frenk include not only the pursuit of academic excellence, but ensuring that the university relates to the larger community. He says UM should use its “knowledge assets” to help with urgent local issues, such as dealing with climate change. “We want to be connected to the problems of the community.”
Science and engineering are paramount to the university’s future and, he says, UM must become a petri dish for innovation. He says Miami, with the university’s help, can become a Silicon Valley. Another lesson from his listening exercise is that diversity is a key concern of students. “I want to go beyond the metrics of diversity,” he says. “I want to create a true sense of belonging for everyone.”
Dr. Frenk believes the university’s academic health system and medical school are now “financially balanced.” He says the next step is to attract more academic stars like Steven Altschuler, new CEO of UHealth and former head of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
And for all the Hurricanes football fans out there, Dr. Frenk wants to make one thing clear: He received three of his graduate degrees from the University of Michigan and has long been a fan of American football.
We extend our congratulations to Dr. Frenk and wish him a long and prosperous tenure. And a winning football team.