University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who led the school for 14 eventful years, announced Monday morning that she plans to retire in 2015.
Shalala, who took over as university president in 2001, explained her plans in a letter addressed to the “university community.”
“It is with gratitude and affection for the University that I share with you my decision to step down at the end of the 2014-2015 university year,” she wrote. “A long time ago a friend advised me to always leave a job when you still love it. That is certainly the case here.”
Shalala says that during her tenure, “we have accomplished what we set out to do—secure the University of Miami’s place as the next great American research university.”
“This is not a goodbye letter; we have work to do. I look forward to a spectacular year,” Shalala, 73, wrote.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Shalala came to South Florida after serving for eight years as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. Shalala had also previously served as president of Hunter College of the City University of New York and as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Shalala’s tenure at UM has included both noteworthy accomplishments and highly publicized struggles. An athletics department scandal involving former University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro became a national black eye for the university, and led to NCAA sanctions that cost UM nine scholarships over three years, in addition to a UM self-imposed bowl ban.
In academia, a university president is often judged by their fund-raising ability, and Shalala excelled at bringing in dollars.
In 2003, UM launched its “Momentum” fund-raising campaign — amassing $1.4 billion in donations at a time when no Florida school had ever before topped the billion-dollar mark. The university launched a second fund-raising drive in 2012.
Under, Shalala’s leadership, UM also steadily moved up in the annual college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report — a fact that UM has promoted repeatedly. But many college admissions counselors, and some college presidents, consider the annual rankings to be scientifically bogus.
In a statement, UM Board of Trustees Chairman Stuart Miller said Shalala “has guided the University into the top tier of national research universities.”
“In the future when we look back at “The Shalala Years,” we will be astonished at the arc of an institution fulfilling its mission as a rising star in higher education, research, and health care,” Miller wrote.
Shalala has presided over major initiatives designed to reshape UM's medical school — hiring more than 100 high-profile researchers and creating a biotech research park that boosted the school's profile.
Purchasing a hospital — the old Cedars Medical Center, now University of Miami Hospital — cemented the school's status as a leading healthcare provider.
And reinventing the relationship between UM and Jackson allowed the medical school to launch new, and potentially competing, roles.
While these ambitious moves vaulted UM's medical school onto the national stage, they may also have damaged it.
The Miller School of Medicine had financial problems big enough to force layoffs of about 900 full-time and part-time workers in May 2012, and UM’s increasing ventures into the local healthcare market caused a noticeable deterioration in the university’s nearly 60-year-old partnership with Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network.
Marcos Lapciuc, a member of the Public Health Trust that oversees Jackson, has long been a vocal critic of UM’s partnership with Jackson, particularly under Shalala’s leadership.
“I definitely think we should be thankful to Donna Shalala for the incredible job she has done being a transformational president,’’ Lapciuc, a UM alumnus, said Monday.
“On the other hand,’’ he added, “it’s no secret that I believe that the relationship between the University of Miami and Jackson has a lot of room for improvement, and I hope that there is a new added emphasis to realign Jackson and the University of Miami.’’
UM provides doctors and medical services to Jackson under an annual agreement for which Miami-Dade’s taxpayer-owned hospital system pays UM $117 million a year.
During a meeting to approve the agreement in May, Lapciuc lambasted the contract as "horrendous for Jackson," and he accused UM of taking lucrative services out of Jackson while also steering insured patients away from the public hospital and into UM's private hospital across the street in Miami's Civic Center.
“The University of Miami made a deliberate and conscious decision to strip Jackson out of five, high-volume Medicare lines,” Lapciuc said at the time, “to rip them out of Jackson and send them to their hospital.”
There have been other medical-related controversies. In October 2013, UM was ordered to refund $3.7 million to Medicare after a federal audit of the hospital's billing practices found the hospital overbilled in 2009 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General.
But Carlos Migoya, chief executive of Jackson Health System, was ebullient in his praise of the UM president.
“Donna Shalala has been a tireless champion for advancing South Florida and a true partner in building healthcare here,” Migoya said. “She is a powerhouse who elevated every issue she touched and, as a result, elevated our entire community.”