BY JERRY LEWIS PHOTOGRAPH BY ARNOLD NEWMAN

ON ALMOST ANY GIVEN DAY during the academic year, a tall man can be spotted walking the Coral Gables campus. His long-legged pace is closer to a jog than a stroll. These walkabouts take him to all corners of the University of Miami’s lush campus. Some days, if it’s lunchtime, he’ll dart into the Hurricane Food Court and buy a turkey sandwich to take back to the office or maybe share with a student. Often he does a quick lap around Lake Osceola, greeting students, staff, and faculty along the way. This jaunt sometimes takes him past a construction site—some sort of renovation or new construction always seems to be under way. As he circles back to the Bowman Foster Ashe Administration Building, his pace quickens. If there’s a companion along—as is usually the case—the person may be struggling to keep up. But, there’s no time to dawdle. It’s time for University of Miami President Edward T. “Tad” Foote II to get back to work and to the job he has so enjoyed for the past 20 years. He has said often that he has had the best job in higher education.

Tad Foote might not have been president, however, if not for a serendipitous phone call from a close friend all those years ago. Norman J. Benford, whom Foote had known since the 1950s as a Yale classmate and Marine Corps buddy, was calling on another matter. They talked, too, about their families and caught up with each other. Foote said he had been approached by executive search firms and was being considered for several university presidencies. Benford mentioned that the University of Miami was conducting a presidential search and asked him if he had been contacted. He hadn’t.








“Norm put me on hold, and the next voice on the line was Mel Greenberg, a senior leader of the Board of Trustees who was also a member of the presidential search committee,” recalls Foote. Within days, Foote was in Miami, meeting with University board and search chairman James W. McLamore and members of the search committee. The conversations rapidly became more serious. The trustees appointed Tad Foote as the fourth president of the University of Miami in March 1981. What followed would be two of the most extraordinary decades in the University’s short but storied history.

“Convinced early on that the University of Miami was one of the most exciting institutions in the nation, I was greatly honored,” says Foote.

Foote arrived in Miami at a crisis point in South Florida’s history. Historic events were unfolding. Cuba’s Mariel boatlift had flooded the city, which was ill-equipped to accommodate or assimilate the tens-of-thousands of refugees. Racial tensions were high, erupting into violence in the streets. Miami was gaining a widespread reputation as a major international drug capital. The melting pot had become a powder keg.

Shortly after Foote arrived at the University, Time magazine ran a cover story about Miami: “Paradise Lost?”

“Some of my friends, how shall I say, mildly questioned the wisdom of my decision to pull up those Midwestern roots and move to Miami,” says Foote. “But we stayed, and we haven’t regretted one minute of it. We have loved this community for 20 years, for all its paradox and complexity.”

The first major administrative hurdle the 43-year-old president faced was one that went straight to the University’s bottom line. The negative national and international publicity dealt the University a severe blow. “Between the time I was hired and the time I welcomed my first freshman class, more than 1,000 students withdrew and studied elsewhere because of Miami’s troubles,” recalls Foote. “The University faced a severe budget crisis. That was a sobering welcome to my new community. It was a short honeymoon.”

That honeymoon was the prelude to 20 remarkably dynamic years of growth that have brought the University to the strong, stable, respected position it enjoys today. In a masterstroke of ingenuity, Foote and his colleagues turned that initial shortfall of students into a major element in the University’s first long-term strategic plan. Marking a pivotal point in the University’s evolution, the theme put forth was quite simple: The University of Miami would get smaller to get better.

During the next few years, with careful planning, the University continued to admit significantly fewer students and, in the process, was able to quickly become more selective. The undergraduate student body shrank by 2,500 students. The caliber of students admitted began to improve immediately. The tide was shifting, and the community entered a more stable period of civic growth. Tad Foote was beginning to get a little sand in his shoes. Miami’s magic was returning.

Foote tackled Miami’s drug and crime problems head-on. He rallied Miami’s power elite to create The Miami Coalition For A Safe and Drug-Free Community, of which he was founding chairman. This broad-based task force approached the community’s drug problems from every conceivable angle—establishing treatment programs, destroying crack houses, securing federal funding to strengthen law enforcement, identifying money laundering schemes, creating drug-free school zones, educating the public, and developing drug-free workplace policies. The organization’s efforts were universally applauded. The Miami Coalition became the national and international model for community-based anti-drug programs.

A defining moment in the history of the University came with the launch of the Campaign for the University of Miami in 1984. At the time, it was the second-largest fundraising campaign in the history of American higher education. There was enthusiasm that the University was ready for the campaign, but the amount of money that would be sought was not so clear. The scene played out in one of Foote’s most memorable meetings with the Board of Trustees.

“The unofficial but generally accepted goal of the campaign before that meeting was $200 million,” says Foote. “In my naivete, I pressed for $500 million, which would have been the largest campaign in American higher education history. The debate that ensued was fascinating. It was a debate not only about the wisdom of a $500 million campaign, but about the future and nature of our University. It came down to whether we had the confidence and the pride to do something truly monumental. We did. The board in its wisdom took a very deep breath and committed to raise $400 million.”

Foote then worked closely with the late James W. McLamore, who served for ten years as the chairman of the Board of Trustees, as well as chairman of the campaign. The two became not only the outward manifestation of the campaign, tireless in their quest to raise money for the University, but also very good friends.

“Jim McLamore and I did most of the serious asking for the largest amounts of money,” recalls Foote. “We once asked Jim Knight at Knight Ridder for a preposterous sum of money, and after some thought he committed $56 million, payable over time, then the largest gift in the history of the University. About six weeks later, we received a call from Harcourt Sylvester that culminated in another huge gift—$27.5 million—the first of a series of very generous commitments that continue to this day.”

The campaign was phenomenally successful and, in fact, raised a staggering $517.5 million, surpassing even Foote’s bold dream. The University emerged from that campaign five years later fundamentally different. Foote had taken the University of Miami to a new level and had proven himself a formidable leader.

The University boomed, gaining national distinction in academics, research, patient care, and campus quality. Foote created three new schools: the School of Architecture, the School of Communication, and what is now the School of International Studies. He transformed the residence halls into residential colleges modeled after those at Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale, his own alma mater. He made research a top priority and focused attention on strategic interdisciplinary initiatives.

The number of full-time faculty members increased by 560. More than 75 percent of the current faculty were hired during his tenure. He envisioned and created the Dante B. Fascell North-South Center. He developed the South Campus in south Miami-Dade County. He built numerous buildings, among them the James L. Knight Physics Building, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the R. Bunn Gautier Biochemistry Building, the School of Law Library, the George A. Smathers Student Wellness Center, the Science Laboratories and Administration Building at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the L. Austin Weeks Center for Recording and Performance, the J. Neville McArthur Engineering Annex, the James W. McLamore Executive Education Center/Storer Auditorium, the Frances L. Wolfson Building, the Lois Pope LIFE Center, and the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute.

The endowment, a measure of any university’s financial health, grew almost tenfold during Foote’s tenure, from $47.4 million in 1981 to $465.2 million in 2000. Competitive research funding (sponsored programs expenditures), a clear indication of the University’s quality as compared with other institutions, escalated from $58.1 million in 1981 to $193.9 million in 2000. Philanthropic dollars multiplied, surpassing $100 million for the first time in 2000.

Yet, with all there is for which he could take credit, Tad Foote is a modest man. He takes great pride in the University’s achievements but emphasizes the accomplishments of the talented colleagues who call him their president. “The fun of this job is that there have been so many accomplishments by so many,” says Foote. “We have a truly outstanding leadership team, and the faculty, staff, and students are doing great work.”

His leadership, compassion, and strength were often sources of inspiration for the University community in times of upheaval and crisis. When Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida—destroying homes, disrupting lives, and delaying classes—Foote led the University community through a swift and complete recovery effort. Within a year, the campuses were not just back to normal, they were better than ever. He also led the University through the dark and tragic days of the on-campus double murder. And he weathered the harsh glare of publicity that sometimes surrounded intercollegiate athletics.

The president is quick to point out, however, that University colleagues and other advisors aside, he could not have made the 20-year journey without one person in particular. By his side all along has been his gracious wife, the University’s First Lady, Bosey. Her most visible legacy to the University will be her attention to the physical beauty of the campus landscape. Early on, she set about transforming the University into what is now routinely called a “Campus in a Tropical Garden.”

“Bosey’s contribution to the University has been tremendous,” says Foote. “The most obvious example is the campus environment, but no one will ever truly know how important she has been to the University of Miami, except me. We’ve done this together.”

Two decades is a long time for anyone to stick with a single job, even more so when it comes to university presidents, who typically hold their positions for seven years or less. Did it get easier? Did it ever become tedious? Was it ever boring?



“Twenty years is indeed a long time, but they went by very fast. It does get a little easier as time goes by. You come to know the institution so well. You learn. You build your team,” says Foote. “There’s hardly anything that can happen to you that hasn’t happened to you already. Little is routine, and that’s what makes it so much fun. It’s always different. It’s always new. And it’s always stimulating.

“The hardest part,” he adds, “is maintaining and nurturing the vision, remembering constantly to aim high despite distractions. In a job like this you can be busy doing the wrong things. You constantly have to keep in mind the priorities of the institution and the fostering of excellence. That is why private research universities exist—to lead.”

Nurturing the vision in the continuum of the University’s history beginning June 1 will be Donna E. Shalala, who will become the University’s fifth president. Foote will assume the new position of chancellor. The transition of leadership is going well and is smoothly under way.

“Tad Foote is one of the great leaders in American higher education,” says Shalala, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as former chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and president of New York’s Hunter College. “He has done a splendid job here at the University of Miami, and he has long been deeply respected by those of us in higher education. It is humbling to follow him.”

Echoing that sentiment is the man whom Foote succeeded in 1981, President Emeritus Henry King Stanford. “The most important thing a university needs is leadership,” says Stanford. “President Foote has proven in every way that he is a most capable leader.”

During the past few months, Foote has been recognized and honored for his leadership by both the University community and the South Florida community. He received the University of Miami Faculty Senate’s James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award, the National Conference for Community and Justice’s Distinguished Community Service Award, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Sand In My Shoes Award, and the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald’s Charles Whited Spirit of Excellence Award.

In his final days in office, Foote will treasure the academic rhythms of a university he has found both fascinating and immensely rewarding for every one of his 20 years here. In early May, he and Mrs. Foote will host the annual reception for graduating seniors at their home. They will greet every student. It will, no doubt, be a bittersweet moment. Foote’s final official public event will be commencement exercises on the University Green on May 11. Commencement admittedly is his favorite time of year, and he will convene the ceremonies under a clear blue Florida sky (the joke around here is that he is in charge of the weather, and, in fact, there hasn’t been rain at commencement in 19 years).

“I enjoy commencement enormously,” he says. “It is the only time of year that the entire University community comes together in one place. It is truly moving to sense the excitement, the enthusiasm, the celebration—the pure majesty of this institution—displayed at a time of such happiness. When I look out across that beautiful lawn in the center of campus and see those 12,000 people, it is thrilling. If we’re lucky, life has a number of very special moments, but few of them equal the excitement of that particular passage.”

The passage this year will be poignant, marking the graduation of seniors and president alike. The trustees will confer an honorary degree on Foote, who will deliver the commencement address. At every commencement since his first at the University, Foote has sent the new graduates off into the world with the words, “We’re proud of you. Good luck. It is good that you passed this way. Please stay in touch. Godspeed.”

Godspeed, President Foote.

Jerry Lewis is assistant vice president for communication at the School of Medicine. Opening portrait by distinguished alumnus and renowned photographer Arnold Newman. Additional photography by John Zillioux, Pyramid Photographics, and University Archives.

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