CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) – With drummers and cheerleaders leading the way and with mascot Sebastian the ibis providing escort, Dr. Julio Frenk debuted as the University of Miami’s president-elect on Monday.
“I am truly honored. I am humbled,” Frenk told a midday news conference.
Frenk could lay honest claim to bragging rights, as his predecessor, Donna Shalala, pointed out.
‘He is a very distinguished leader and scholar in global health,” Shalala said.
Born in Mexico, Frenk’s grandparents fled the Nazi’s in World War II. He is a citizen of Mexico and Spain. He is now dean of health at Harvard university, and served as Mexico’s minister of health.
He has enough degrees and awards to wallpaper a house. UM’s first Hispanic boss says he was drawn to the school and Miami by quality and diversity.
“I like to think in global terms and I think this university and this city are uniquely global,” he said.
UM students greeted Frenk like an international rock star.
“It’s very exciting. that we have a first Hispanic,” said student Stephanie Irigoyen. “That will be great.”
Frenk said UM’s medical school, that has burgeoned under Shalala’s leadership, also attracted him to the job.
“It’s a great medical school, a highly regarded medical school and is one of the top academic medical centers,” Frenk said.
He offered no specific plans for changes at UM, saying he’ll spend the time before taking office in September getting the lay of the land.
“It would be presumptuous of me at this point to say, ‘here is my vision,'” he said.
UM’s president-elect is considered quite the progressive. In fact, he was dealing in Obamacare before there was Obamacare, creating a system in Mexico that brought insurance to 50 million people who had no health insurance coverage.
Frenk, 61, is married and has a ten year-old daughter.
Frenk succeeds a president who, as Stuart Miller, chairman of the school’s board of trustees said, has lead the university to “pole vault to new heights.”
Indeed, Shalala has drawn more than $3 billion in philanthropic donations to UM, has doubled the freshman enrollment, dramatically improved academic performance, increased the graduation rate by nearly 20 percent and overseen construction of nearly three million square feet of new campus facilities.
As a Latino, Frenk is a fan of futball – soccer – and having gone to college at the University of Michican, is also an American football fan.
He gets it that he’s coming to a place that likes its football.
“I am fully aware of the great tradition in athletics and particularly football here,” he said.
And with that, he and his wife and Sebastian the ibis flashed the iconic “U” symbol to a cheering crowd of trustees and boosters.