An unforgettable legacy, what former president Julio Frenk means to the U

The sixth President of the University of Miami Julio Frenk throws up the “U” to conclude his speech at the inauguration ceremony in the BankUnited Center Friday afternoon. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic tested educational institutions around the world. In an unprecedented time and just four years into his tenure, Julio Frenk sought to be a beacon of hope to a grief-stricken community.

Calling on his experience as Mexico’s former Secretary of Health, Frenk made the University of Miami one of only 30% of institutions offering in-person classes with intricate procedures that put student and faculty health first.

“The way the University dealt with the pandemic really became a model for many other universities because of [Julio Frenk],” Dr. Mitchell Shapiro, School of Communication professor and honors program director, said.

As he departs to become the University of California, Los Angeles’ next chancellor, here’s a look into how Frenk truly embodied the U’s slogan: ’Canes care for ’Canes.

From his first day in office in 2015, Frenk made an immediate effort to welcome the incoming class.When cases of COVID-19 were rising in 2019, he sent frequent video messages to the campus community ensuring updated safety precautions were taking place.

After the 2021 Surfside complex collapse, Frenk offered counseling services to those affected and encouraged the campus community to aid victims. In 2022, he then appointed Joe Echevarria, the current acting president, as the University’s chief executive officer to continue executing his plan, “The Roadmap to Our Century.”

During Frenk’s tenure, the University’s Miller School of Medicine and UHealth steadily improved and made a remarkable impact on cancer research.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Cancer was awarded the National Cancer Institute designation in 2019, making it one of the leaders in clinical studies and the only NCI-designated health system in South Florida.

Frenk’s fundraising campaign, “Ever Brighter,” united international donors to surge campus academics, athletics and facilities to drive it into a new centennial of success, raising more than $2 billion toward its $2.5 billion.

With a $100 million donation from Dr. Philip and Patrica Frost, to establish the Frost Institutes, ongoing research into chemistry, molecular science and data science will continue unearthing ground-breaking discoveries and provide students with a greater array of research opportunities.

It doesn’t end there. A $50 million gift from Kenneth C. Griffin, founder of Citadel and Griffin Catalyst, will bring a new 12-story research building to cement the University as a pioneer of medical education innovation.

These initiatives led to the University’s membership in the honored Association of American Universities in 2023, a goal decades in the making.

Frenk’s efforts in spearheading UHealth’s growth matched his dedication to students.

It’s common to find Frenk at campus events and attending Miami Hurricane football games, eager to take pictures with students.

“For rising seniors like me, we remember President Frenk energetically welcoming us in-person our freshman year for ’Canes Take Flight,” Roy Carillo Zamora, University student government president, said. “His legacy at UM will be felt.”

President Frenk and Arva Moore Parks sing the alma mater with Firsts at UM attendees. Hallee Meltzer // Photo Editor
President Frenk and Arva Moore Parks sing the alma mater with Firsts at UM attendees. Hallee Meltzer // Photo Editor

Frenk took part in dunk-tank fundraisers for student organizations and even answered student questions concerning a viral shirtless picture of him.

His commitment to improving student life would peak in 2020 with the creation of Lakeside Village and the Knight Center for Music Innovation.

The Knight Center for Music Innovation doubled the nationally ranked Frost School of Music’s musical performance possibilities and gave musicians a new sanctuary to experiment. It has since hosted orchestras and esteemed performers, like Tony award-winner Kristin Chenoweth.

Lakeside Village introduced state-of-the-art dorms that overlook Lake Osceola and the Fate Bridge. The living spaces bring ultimate comfort and easy access to almost every classroom, making them the most in demand.

Frenk leaves behind the upcoming Centennial Village as a parting gift to the incoming class of 2028. The freshman-exclusive residence halls will replace Hecht Residential College and Stanford Residential College, bringing more students together under Lakeside Village levels of luxury.

Echevarria promises to continue improving campus life as acting president with Frenk taking a sabbatical leave to prepare for his transition to UCLA.

“As someone who has worked closely with Julio for years and who has had an inside view of his courageous leadership, I can understand why an outstanding institution would select Julio for such a role,” Echevarria said in his first message to the University community.

Taking over after former president Donna Shalala stepped down put high expectations on Frenk. His efforts exceeded them and made the U home to acclaimed students, faculty and professionals.

Now, Echevarria and the University’s Board of Trustees begin their search for a new leader for the University.

“As the Board begins the process of working with the faculty to identify the institution’s next president, my message to you today is simple: Let’s keep rising,” Echevarria said.