CORAL GABLES, Fla. ― Julio Frenk, a former health minister in Mexico and a dean who helped quadruple fundraising at Harvard during his recent tenure there, was tapped Monday as the next president of the University of Miami.
The school’s board of trustees unanimously approved Frenk’s selection. He’ll take office Sept. 1, three months after former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala’s tenure ends. Shalala, who has been president since 2001, succeeded in raising the profile of a school now consistently ranked among the nation’s top 50 colleges and universities.
“President Shalala was one of the most highly respected voices, a leading voice in international health,” Frenk, 61, told The Associated Press. “There’s no question that she had such a successful tenure here, and that was very attractive in making this a very attractive opportunity for me. I think she’s done a great job of improving the university.”
Frenk had been the dean of the faculty at Harvard’s School of Public Health. He introduced comprehensive universal health care to Mexican citizens during his tenure there and is the author of two books for young people about the workings of the body.
Shalala departs June 1 and will take over as president of the Clinton Foundation. Provost Thomas LeBlanc will serve as interim president until Frenk’s inauguration.
Frenk said his transition into the new role is already underway.
“There will be a process of shared learning, so I can learn more about the University of Miami and the university will learn more about me as well,” Frenk said.
Frenk told the AP there were three major reasons for wanting the Miami job: The school’s “upward momentum,” as he put it; its geographic location with Miami being a gateway connecting Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States; and how it’s a new chance for him to put his own stamp on something significant.
“Universities are at a critical point in their history,” Frenk said. “I like very much, it’s very attractive to me, based on my experience in my own field of public health and at a great university like Harvard, now to take another step, another level up.”
Frenk’s wife, Dr. Felicia Knaul ― an associate Harvard professor, a breast cancer survivor and research and advocacy advocate ― will also be joining Miami as a faculty member in the fall.
“I am certain that he will further transform the University of Miami as a leading educational force for the Americas and for the world,” said former president of Mexico Vicente Fox.
There are obvious similarities between Shalala and Frenk.
Shalala was a member of the U.S. Cabinet under President Bill Clinton; Frenk was a member of the Mexican Cabinet, serving as minister of health there from 2000 through 2006.
He’s even been honored by the 42nd President, receiving a Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2008. He’s also served as a senior fellow for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Frenk’s expertise in fundraising was a key point for Miami’s search committee. Miami is wrapping up its second Momentum fundraising campaign under Shalala, with a total of about $3 billion raised for the school.
In his six years at Harvard, Frenk quadrupled fundraising and helped land a $350 million naming gift for the School of Public Health ― the largest single gift in Harvard’s 378-year history.
“It’s clear from their choice that the University of Miami’s trustees share Julio’s own qualities of wisdom and foresight, and that they have discovered in him the remarkable leadership capacity and vision with which he has graced Harvard these past six years,” said Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust.