A Legacy of Achievement

Julio Frenk: A Legacy of Achievement

A Legacy of Achievement

Julio Frenk, the University of Miami’s first Hispanic president, departs the institution to become the next chancellor of UCLA. From academics to health care to fundraising, his accomplishments at the U span the $4.1 billion enterprise.
Julio Frenk, the University of Miami’s first Hispanic president, departs the institution to become the next chancellor of UCLA. From academics to health care to fundraising, his accomplishments at the U span the $4.1 billion enterprise.
by ROBERT C. JONES JR.

HE HAD CONFRONTED OTHER INFECTIOUS DISEASES BEFORE, GIVING ADVICE AND IMPLEMENTING MEASURES TO HELP PROTECT CITIZENS FROM THE LIKES OF SARS (SEVERE ACUTE RESPIRATORY SYNDROME), SWINE FLU, AND EBOLA.

But when Julio Frenk became president of the University of Miami in 2015, he most likely didn’t anticipate having to safeguard his campus from a pandemic that would shut down much of the world and kill millions. Yet, five years into his presidency, that is precisely where Frenk, a former minister of health of Mexico, found himself: dealing with the fourth pandemic of his career.

A severe respiratory illness that would eventually be known as COVID-19 was spreading around the world and starting to gain a foothold in the United States. As cases in Miami-Dade County began to spike, Frenk and University officials quickly pivoted, migrating courses online and having students finish the 2019-20 academic year from home.

As the University became one of only 30 percent of higher education institutions offering both in-person and remote instruction that fall, Frenk’s administration implemented a host of protocols and precautions that were so thorough that no cases of in- classroom transmission of the virus were recorded throughout the full academic year.

The University’s response to the pandemic was particularly memorable but was only one of the many achievements Frenk helped spearhead during his nine years as the institution’s sixth president.

Now, with Frenk having departed Miami to become the next chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he leaves an institution that, under his leadership for nearly a decade, has risen to new heights in a multitude of areas—from education, philanthropy, and research to health care, intercollegiate athletics, and service to society. Last year, for example, the institution reached $760 million in external research grant funding across the medical and academic enterprises, while its growth pool market value, primarily represented by its endowment, totaled $1.4 billion.

“Julio’s tenure has been marked by resilience, vision, and an innovative management model that allowed us to attain remarkable results for our students, patients, and community,” Manny Kadre, the newly named chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter to the University community announcing Frenk’s departure.

President Julio Frenk tours campus facilities being used in new ways to protect the community from COVID-19 transmission.
President Julio Frenk tours campus facilities being used in new ways to protect the community from COVID-19 transmission.

Immediate Impact

Frenk arrived at the University in 2015, succeeding Donna Shalala. And even on his first official day, Frenk made an immediate impact, meeting with student leaders and greeting parents who were helping their children move into the residential colleges on the Coral Gables Campus to begin the 2015-16 school year.
From that day on, the pace of his administration’s accomplishments and progress accelerated, with a relentless focus on excellence and continuous improvement. Two years ago, as the value of higher education came under increasing scrutiny, Frenk appointed the chief executive officer with whom he had partnered on a dramatic turnaround of the University’s health system, Joseph “Joe” Echevarria, B.B.A. ’78, as CEO across the entire institution to drive execution of its strategic plan, The Roadmap to Our New Century.

On his first day, Julio Frenk joins a selfie and lends an ear to student leaders.
On his first day, Julio Frenk joins a selfie and lends an ear to student leaders.

AAU Membership

The University’s ascension into the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) is arguably its greatest achievement during Frenk’s presidency. It had been a decades-long goal of the institution to become a member of the esteemed national organization of leading research universities, entry into which is by invitation only.

Only 3 percent of the nation’s four-year institutions belong to the AAU, whose members produce 51 percent of all research doctorates and which—up until this year—included just eight schools in the Southeast.

“There are special moments in the life of a university that not only reward our hard work but, more importantly, reaffirm our strategic vision and time-honored mission,” Frenk said last year when the University achieved membership into the group.

World-Class Health Care

Much of the research propelling the University into the top echelon among its national peers is carried out at the Miller School of Medicine and UHealth – University of Miami Health System, in partnership with Jackson Health System. During Frenk’s tenure, UHealth experienced a dramatic turnaround and initiated significant growth as South Florida’s only academic health system.

Its Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center received the prestigious National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, joining a highly select group as one of only two NCI-designated cancer centers in the state of Florida and one of just 72 across the nation. A landmark gift established the Desai Sethi Urology Institute at UHealth, and other specialties such as ophthalmology continued to thrive, with the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute remaining the top eye hospital in the country for 22 consecutive years.

While the Miller School excelled in drawing talent to South Florida with its NextGenMD curriculum—the first cohort of which achieved a 100 percent match rate on residencies—the health system continued to expand its regional footprint. UHealth is set to open new locations in Doral this fall and Aventura next year, modeled after its highly successful Coral Gables facility, The Lennar Foundation Medical Center.

Attracting Support

Ever Brighter: The Campaign for Our Next Century quietly launched with Frenk’s arrival. And by the time it was publicly unveiled in 2021, Frenk noted that the institution’s most ambitious fundraising campaign ever was well on its way to reaching its $2.5 billion goal. With just under 18 months remaining in the campaign, the institution has endowed more than 100 new faculty chairs and raised more than $2 billion.

It is about enabling the University to be better, stronger, and bolder at doing what it has done since its founding in 1925.

—JULIO FRENK

But the campaign’s goal, Frenk proclaimed, was never about a number. “It is about enabling the University to be better, stronger, and bolder at doing what it has done since its founding in 1925: turn challenges into opportunities, lead in service to humanity, and be a force for good across our local and global communities,” he said.

During Frenk’s administration, Ever Brighter was powered by historic donations, including a $128 million anonymous gift—the largest ever to the University—to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and a $100 million gift from longtime philanthropists Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost to establish a group of synergistic research centers patterned after the National Institutes of Health and aimed at harnessing the interdisciplinary power of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Focusing on research at the molecular level, one of those centers, the 94,000-square-foot Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science, has already opened. Another, the Frost Institute for Data Science and Computing, is enabling new discoveries through data-intensive research in fields ranging from medicine and earth sciences to urban planning, digital humanities, and business.

The philanthropic impact of Frenk’s administration will be felt long after he has left the University. A $50 million gift from Kenneth C. Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel and founder of Griffin Catalyst, is helping to build the Griffin Cancer Research Building, a 12-story, 244,000-square-foot facility that will allow Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to double its research footprint, accelerate efforts to develop new therapies, expand access to clinical trials, and enhance patient care.
 

Ever Brighter was powered by historic donations, such as a $100 million gift from longtime philanthropists Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost, pictured here with Juilo Frenk.
Ever Brighter was powered by historic donations, such as a $100 million gift from longtime philanthropists Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost, pictured here with Juilo Frenk.

New Facilities

Whether it be housing for students or a state-of-the-art music performance and technology center, new facilities were a distinctive feature during Frenk’s tenure.

Hailed as the future of live performance, music, and technology, the new $36.5 million Knight Center for Music Innovation opened in 2023, showcasing a vast array of next-generation features that are allowing Frost School of Music students, faculty members, and visiting artists to experiment, explore, and develop new modalities in musical performance.

Composed of 25 interconnected buildings and a multitude of outdoor spaces, including a grand courtyard, study spots, recreational spaces, and outdoor terraces, the 12-acre Lakeside Village student housing complex opened to students in August 2020.

Meanwhile, the first phase of Centennial Village, part of the University’s multiyear plan to modernize campus housing, is expected to open this fall.
 

The Knight Center for Music Innovation is a 25,000-square-foot performance and technology center that opened on the Coral Gables Campus in 2023. Photo courtesy of Kikor
The Knight Center for Music Innovation is a 25,000-square-foot performance and technology center that opened on the Coral Gables Campus in 2023. Photo courtesy of Kikor

 

The Lakeside Village student housing complex, which opened in 2020, revolutionizes the living-learning experience.
The Lakeside Village student housing complex, which opened in 2020, revolutionizes the living-learning experience.

Next Steps

Following the announcement, the Board of Trustees, in consultation with the leadership of the Faculty Senate, appointed Echevarria to serve as acting president effective immediately. Over the next several months, the board will engage in robust discussion with the faculty and other important stakeholders to initiate the process of identifying the next president of the University, according to Kadre.

In his first message to the University community as acting president, Echevarria noted his respect and gratitude for the institution’s faculty. A passionate alumnus, he lauded Frenk’s record of achievement and urged his colleagues to remain focused on the institution’s mission, concluding, “I first arrived on this campus as a 17-year- old from the South Bronx in 1974—50 years ago. This place means the world to me because it changed the trajectory of my life. Our mission and our quest for excellence continue.”

Here’s a look at other achievements during Frenk’s tenure:

  • The University renamed its business school in honor of Patti and Allan Herbert for their transformative $100 million in lifetime giving to the University.

  • The School of Nursing and Health Studies dedicated its new Simulation Hospital Advancing Research and Education, highlighting a new era of engaged learning and transformative spaces across the University.

  • The University launched a new Climate Resilience Academy, a research hub that supports the academic units and pursues an interdisciplinary approach that links with private and public partners to solve impacts of climate change and other complex global issues.

  • The women’s and men’s basketball teams made a magical and historic march in their respective NCAA tournaments in 2023—the women advancing to the Elite Eight and the men competing in the Final Four.
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