University roadmap should drive straight to Miami’s core
Written by Michael Lewis on August 25, 2015
On paper, the University of Miami is now governed by a great new president, Julio Frenk. But then, on paper this season the Miami Marlins were championship contenders.
Succeeding off paper in the real world requires the kind of leadership for which Dr. Frenk was recruited. Which is why his first announcement was heartening: he said he’ll spend 100 days listening intently as he roadmaps the university’s future.
He should get more than an earful: professors and university students are hardly reticent or lacking in strong opinions. His job will be to pluck the needle-sharp wisdom from the haystack of ideas he’ll find himself buried in.
Even more important than pulling together wisdom will be the ensuing prioritization. Not every good idea is practical, and not every practical idea can be accomplished simultaneously. Ideas will be many, but in goal-setting less is more.
It’s likely that university trustees have already given Dr. Frenk their own list of aims. Doubtless a scholar who has already been Mexico’s health minister and Harvard’s medical school dean has his own carefully drawn list as well.
The last thing Dr. Frenk needs, in fact, may be a newspaper’s ideas about what he and the university should be doing. But just in case he hasn’t yet stumbled over the obvious, we want to make perfectly clear what Miami – as opposed to just the university itself – needs from the University of Miami.
First, the university should be linking to the community in which it functions in as many ways as possible. Communities make great laboratories in which to put ideas and training into practice. The university gets a low-cost test tube of the practical; the community gains low-cost wisdom of the academic world. It’s a simple win-win.
We can see academic training being practiced to spur new leadership, add to low-cost housing, alleviate traffic congestion, increase contacts with academics globally, stimulate economic growth, and spur gains for economic have-nots. Those are not the university’s responsibility, but since the university lives here too it will prosper as the community does.
The university’s president can also provide both personal leadership and a forum to convene in a single room leaders of multiple groups to cooperate at Miami’s highest levels.
For example, Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg is next in line to chair the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Considering Miami’s paucity of leaders who cross lines, Dr. Frenk would do a public service by stepping off campus into a top-level local leadership role, formal or informal.
It also would benefit the community if the University of Miami were to strengthen its STEM programs – the vital areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We are unlikely to grow Miami’s economy in those areas without a steady flow of strong graduates for businesses to hire. We have a gap there today.
It is also vital to Miami that the university keep strengthening its global impact in a multinational county that lives on the services it sells to every continent. We should attract globally not only top professors and students but also events that bring here world thought, business and government leaders, events that include Miamians and Miami institutions.
The medical school is a major contributor to Miami, but since that is Dr. Frenk’s strength and the medical school already consumes more than two-thirds of the annual university budget of about $2.8 billion yet enrolls only a few hundred of the 16,774 students, he will certainly emphasize medicine and health.
But the university is still not among the American Association of Universities’ 60 research universities. Admission is by invitation only. Dr. Frenk should target entry. The prestige will serve the community well and equally serve Miami’s ability to recruit large new employers in research fields.
As for the university’s high-profile football program, we’re sure others have advised Dr. Frenk. We’d simply warn that the team should be entirely student-athletes, not just athletes. Too often UM football has made national news for all the wrong reasons, starting with character.
Under each of its first five presidents the 90-year-old university made major gains. On paper, we expect no less under Dr. Frenk – including a much-sharpened focus on an active role in leading its community.
We can’t wait for him to announce after his first 100 days just how he has mapped the university’s next century.