July 27, 2004

I feel an obligation to communicate with the University community on an issue in the news.

In my experience, most higher educational institutions in this country consider institutional interests above any others in making decisions, despite protestations to the contrary that we are acting in the interests of our students, or faculty, or staff. In the case of our decision to admit Mr. Willie Williams, we probably should take a pass knowing the outcry might be damaging to our hard-earned reputation.

We choose not to in this case. Not because, as many would argue, we need his exceptional talent on the football team. Indeed, anyone who knows anything about UM football knows we have so much talent that we have the luxury of being more selective and continuing our dominance in the upper echelons of college football. We do exactly that every year; our coaches take character and the ability of a young man to successfully complete a course of study very seriously. They also know from history that it is hard to predict how well a highly-prized recruit will do or, God forbid, if an injury will destroy an athletic career. We choose to trust the experience of our coaches.

More importantly, we choose to support the recommendation of members of our faculty and staff who constituted our admissions group. They possess broad experience in reading complicated admissions applications, which in this case revealed a more accurate picture of a young man than what you have heard and read to date. Laws protecting the files of young people have resulted in inaccurate public reports--and sloppy conclusions by various so-called experts.

This is hardly a perfect applicant to the University. Oh, how we love perfection--perfect grades, perfect character, and perfect recommendations. Those are the easy ones! This young man is not perfect and has made some bad decisions--in friends, in behavior, etc. However, he is young, and his file reveals academic talent as well as the better-known athletic ability.

Mr. Williams is also one of us--a son of Miami. We have a special obligation, relationship, and commitment to the young people of our South Florida community. We want them to continue to think of us as a place of academic excellence and opportunity. My friends and advisors have suggested that some institution will take him if we don't; I believe that to be a true statement. However, our reading of his application is that he will have the possibility of a real future if he attends an institution that is both tough and demanding academically.

Therefore, as a condition of admission, we have placed the bar high for him. There will be academic conditions that he must meet to play football at Miami. Additionally, he will participate in a program that we provide for all athletes that includes mentoring, constructive counseling, and monitoring of their behavior--both on and off campus.

It may seem to you that in this case we are prepared to make a decision that, at least on the surface, seems in his interest and not ours as an institution. I believe that periodically having to make decisions like this makes us a better institution. Since it is your institution, I value your comments. Feel free to e-mail me at dshalala@miami.edu.


Donna E. Shalala

Office of the President
P.O. Box 248006 Coral Gables, Florida 33124-4600
305-284-5155 Fax 305-284-3768