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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Donna Shalala's Perfect Day

University of Miami President, Donna Shalala, was honoured by President Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest civilian award in the country.

To put the honour into context, the President's father, GHW Bush, still hasn't received one -- President and Mrs. Carter have one each.

Here she is being personally decorated by the Presidential hands.

(You'll notice the jokey demeanour President Bush employs around women he likes. The jabs in the crook of the elbows, the nudges in the ribs, the forceful little pats on the back. His attitude towards Shalala reminded me of that awkward little shoulder rub he gave Chancellor Merkel. Shalala looks much more comfortable than Merkel was, than I would be, come to that)

Donna Shalala came to this great honour after a lifetime of service both in academia and to her country.

She's the well-liked 5th UM President, having gone on a barnstorming campaign to raise funds for that hallowed South Florida university. To date, her efforts are well over 1 billion dollars -- an impressive sum.

Prior to that, the lady who must measure a full 4'11 in Manolo pumps was President Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services. She was an 8-year man, despite being called by The Washington Post: "one of the most controversial Clinton Cabinet nominees".

Why? Well, apparently, she was in their judgement too liberal. Too liberal for the WaPo. I'll let that sink in.

Her liberal credentials included having a previous Presidential position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home to my dear friend, Brother Daryl, and Professor Ann Althouse.

In that capacity, she instituted a "speech code" on campus, effectively banning hate speech on campus (or as Wikipedia puts it both in "noninstructional" and "instructional" settings. I'm guessing they meant dorms, and that's an overreach. No wonder it was struck down).

Though you won't read this on Wiki, she did something similar at the Coral Gables campus: shortly after arriving, she instructed IT engineers to firewall white supremacist websites, and the like. The problem is that other hate speech websites were either greenlit or overlooked, so it created a strange atmosphere of tolerance to intolerance based on ideological perceptions.

(Perhaps we can coax Brother Daryl from the shadows for a more pertinent opinion on the lady)

As for me, all I can say is that she's a very nice lady and a hands-on administrator. She personally teaches a class on the US Health Care system of which, of course, she has deep insight.

You can see her bounding across campus surrounded by a bevy of female assistants, and sometimes her dog, a tiny spinsterish dynamo of energy.

Her mother, who still plays tennis with her at the incredibly advanced age of over 90 (a fact revealed when President Clinton paid a visit, with yours truly in the audience), often visits her in the sprawling Coral Gables 9,000 sq. ft. estate, hers during her term as President.

She once was interviewed by the New York Times, proudly showing off her 500 songs on her iPod, marvelling at the wicked awesome life she has in the mansion.

That article, plus my own impressions about her being rather star-struck (she gushed like a teenybopper that Anderson Cooper was a "rockstar", and practically fainted when shaking hands with Al Gore) tells me she's not without her little foibles.

So, she's a little obvious.

But who isn't in Miami. It's that kind of town and frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way. Certainly it beats the hothouse, post-hippie, BoBo atmosphere of Madison.

As mentioned, here is part of a lengthy interview the Lebanese-American standout granted the NYT. My cheeky comments in brackets.

Her perfect day: Someone gives a $10 million donation before breakfast. I have lunch with graduating seniors who all just got great jobs. After lunch I recruit one of the world's best doctors for the medical school, then I go play three sets of tennis.

[Yep, that pretty much sums up my perfect day too]

Morning routine: I get up at 5:30 a.m., get dressed and take the dog for a walk around my neighborhood. Then I come home, work out for an hour, shower, read six newspapers and head to the office by 7:30 a.m.

[I read 5 newspapers on my Kindle, but if I get out of bed by 12 PM, I pat myself on the back]

Best thing about Miami: The energy.


Worst thing about Miami: You have to drive. I like places where I can walk to everything.

[A woman who doesn't like to drive is not to be trusted]

What she drives: I own a Lexus hybrid S.U.V. and a red Volkswagen Beetle, which my mother drives when she's in town. I love Beetles. They are perky and whimsical.

[Good news: It's a hybrid. Bad news: Lexus SUV. Isn't that like boasting about being friends with "nunnish prostitutes"?]

Her philosophy of presidential living: I've been president of three universities and worked in the White House, so I have strong views about what a president's house should be. It should be elegant and warm. It should reflect the taste of the occupant. Most of all, it should be accessible. In this house you can put your feet up on anything.

[Elegant but down-home. Now that I have to see]

Her roommate: Sweetie is a rescue dog. She was found beaten and lying in a Dumpster. She's like a toy German Shepherd, but she'd be upset if she knew I told you that. She wouldn't want to be described as small.


Personal hero: I have always admired Amelia Earhart. She was brave and she was willing to risk everything to achieve her goals.

[Wow, Amelia Earheart. The woman you couldn't tell was female or male or what. But yes, she was quite a brave pilot. Would it be a stretch to imagine her other heroine is Babe Didrickson Zaharias? She was sporty!]

Book she has read the most times: James Hilton's "Lost Horizon." It's a novel about a group of people whose plane crashes in Tibet. It's really about morality.

[I liked the film]

How she beats the heat: All the rooms have fans. I hate air-conditioning. I don't want to pretend that we don't use air-conditioning in the summer, but I don't like it.

[What! No one uses their fans in Florida, or walks. Yes, we all have fans in every room, and a lot of us have legs, but it's just not the Floridian way]

Gadget she can't live without: My iPod. I just love it. I listen to it when I travel and when I walk the dog. I put books on it. At the moment I have the opera "Madame Butterfly" on it.

[A Puccini fan. I like her already]

Favorite design element: Political cartoons about me. My favorite one shows a little girl telling a little boy: "You be the doctor. I'll be the secretary of health and human services."

[See what I mean by being a little obvious?]

Best recent purchase: A 1790 French country cabinet from the estate of the late Washington Post columnist Meg Greenfield. I always loved it and admired it, and it reminds me of Meg and the times I spent with her.

[I'm sure]

Worst recent purchase: My 29-foot motorboat. I bought it when I came down here because I have a dock, and I thought it would be fun. But I just don't use it enough. If anyone wants it, it's for sale. It seats 12.

[Hey, Madame Prez -- the NYT isn't Craigslist, you know?]

Favorite Republican: Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. He's always been committed to women's sports. I used to play tennis with him when I was in Washington, and I just like him.

[Don't worry, this was before partnering Bob Dole in that bipartisan veterans committee. I'm sure she's added him to her list of favourite enemies]

Favorite sport: Tennis. My strengths are my backhand and drop shot. My weaknesses: I'm not as quick as I used to be, and I don't have a great serve.

[My serve is killer! I want to play with this lady at the Salvatore Park tennis courts!]

Person she would most like to meet: Bono.

[Oh God]

Talent she covets: More language skills. I speak Arabic, Farsi, English and a little French, and I read German. I'm studying Spanish, but it hasn't been easy for me, and you have to understand that my Farsi and Arabic are marginal.

[So basically, you don't speak Farsi and Arabic. Why are you counting them then?? I don't count Romanian, though I can read it. And Latin!]

Procrastination technique: Surfing the Web. I look at sports Internet sites. I especially read all the insider columns about college sports.

[I'm telling you. Babe Didrickson is number two. I can smell it]

Favorite vacation spot: The kingdom of Bhutan. I am partial to isolated places with big mountains near them. The cold air clears my head.

[Oh God, Part Deux]

Evening routine: Most evenings I have something to do. There is often a reception of some sort, or a dinner at the house. Once a week I'll entertain at home. My guests can be anyone from high school counselors to the Dalai Lama.


Fictional character she identifies with: Wonder Woman.


Àpropos to the Lebanese connexion, do you know that the New England Americans for Lebanon --NEAL-- endorsed Senator McCain in November? Hmm.

So as you can see, she's a delight. She's great for her university. And she's rather intent on letting anyone know despite her SUV, motorboat, and gilt-trappings, she's still a lady who can reconcile all that, plus the recent janitor strike when she sided against the UNICCO union workers (mostly Haitian immigrants), and still be considered a big-time liberal by the WaPo.

Listen, I like her. She's great. And she fully deserves the recent honour she received.

Despite my irreverent tone, I'm glad she's brought the University of Miami to the pedestal of progress it now has.

Her predecessor President Tad Foote (son-in-law to Senator Fulbright of Arkansas) was a very similar man in politics, and demeanour, albeit a very tall guy. He too had lofty ambitions, which didn't exactly pan out.

So I suppose we in academia know what kind of messages they will emphasise, but not quite deliver on.

In Shalala's case, she's a Wonder Woman wannabe, and we're darn proud of her.

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  • I'll overcome my fear of becoming Sundries' Zelig or Forrest Gump...

    Donna Shalala handed me my diploma. I towered over her, which is a first for any of my graduations.

    My musical suggestion.

    By Blogger Ruth Anne Adams, at Thu Jun 19, 04:23:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Ruth Anne, it's more likely that I'd been seen as Sundries' Garbo than I see you as Forrest Gump!

    Vic, those bullet items...they'd make a good post on their own, no? I may do it on my own initiative..or maybe I vant to be alone!

    By Blogger Ron, at Thu Jun 19, 07:04:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Ruth Anne, are you kidding? I'm Miss #1 Name-Dropper! Knock yourself out: anytime you know someone here, say it! I find it fascinating, in a kind of Six Degrees of Separation way.

    BTW, I love Legally Blonde. ;)

    But I honestly thoughy you meant this Perfect Day!


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Jun 19, 11:07:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Vic, those bullet items...they'd make a good post on their own, no? I may do it on my own initiative..or maybe I vant to be alone!


    Ron, which bullet points? Sorry, me a little slow today. :P


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Jun 19, 11:07:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Ron, which bullet points? Sorry, me a little slow today. :P

    Best Recent Purchase, Worst Recent Purchase, Favorite Republican, etc...
    Them There Items!

    By Blogger Ron, at Fri Jun 20, 12:02:00 am GMT-4  

  • It is worth noting that after receiving this prestigious award, Donna Shalala openly violated student's 1st ammendment rights on campus by banning a student magazine (back\slash magazine) from the University of Miami.

    Miami New Times Reports: http://www.backslashonline.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=328:student-drops-out-after-magazine-banned&Itemid=41

    By Blogger back\slash Magazine, at Wed Mar 10, 05:13:00 pm GMT-5  

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