As an undergrad at the University of Miami, I took President Donna Shalala's class on health care, which she regularly peppered with stories from her own years as Secretary of Health and Human Services. She once described how she got the job in the first place. An old friend of the Clintons, Bill called her up after he had been elected when Shalala was serving as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He asked her what she'd like to do in his administration. She said she'd like to lead the Defense Department because it had the biggest budget and the biggest staff, but added she'd lead HHS as well, because it was the second largest.
Which tells you two things: Shalala is incredibly loyal and close friends with the Clintons, and she's always up for huge challenges.
So it comes as no surprise that after officially stepping down as president of the University of Miami, next year she'll take the reins of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 74-year-old Shalala will leave Miami later this year for New York City and her new job. The paper also notes that the foundation came under scrutiny recently for accepting donations from foreign nations like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. That, of course, could become a problem if, as is almost universally expected, Hillary Clinton runs for president.
The Journal also found that 60 companies that had lobbied the State Department during Hillary's tenure also donated to the foundation.
Shalala's will likely be entrusted with the duty of curbing any existing controversy involving the foundation and keeping it out of any new drama while Hillary pursues the White House.
The foundation focuses on health security; economic empowerment; leadership development and citizen service; and racial, ethnic, and religious reconciliation throughout the globe.
Shalala and Hillary had originally met while serving together on the Children's Defense Fund.
The Clintons and Shalala have kept close ties while Shalala served at University of Miami. Indeed, the Clinton Global Initiative University event will be held this weekend at the school's Coral Gables campus.
During Clinton's 2008 campaign, there was speculation that Shalala might leave her post at UM, which she held since 2001, to return to the White House. Now it appears her future is on the NGO side.
Shalala's tenure at the University of Miami saw the school score in both fundraising and academic reputation, but also involved a scandal with the football team (though Shalala is credited with helping the school avoid major sanctions), a strike by the school's lowly paid janitors, and the school's controversial plan to sell land occupied by a pine rocklands forest to a developer who plans to build a Walmart, apartments, and a Chick-fil-A.
The move, of course, means that Miami will lose one of its most important and connected local power players.
A replacement for Shalala at UM has not yet been found.
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