Donna Shalala

Donna Shalala
Donna Shalala, official portrait, 116th Congress.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 27th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
Preceded by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
President of the Clinton Foundation
In office
March 6, 2015 – April 25, 2017
Preceded by Eric Braverman
Succeeded by Kevin Thurm
5th President of the University of Miami
In office
June 1, 2001 – August 16, 2015
Preceded by Edward T. Foote II
Succeeded by Julio Frenk
18th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services
In office
January 22, 1993 – January 20, 2001
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Louis Wade Sullivan
Succeeded by Tommy Thompson
5th Chancellor of the
University of Wisconsin–Madison
In office
January 1, 1988 – January 22, 1993
Preceded by Bernard Cecil Cohen
Succeeded by David Ward
10th President of Hunter College
In office
October 8, 1980 – January 1, 1988
Preceded by Jacqueline Grennan Wexler
Succeeded by Paul LeClerc
Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Policy Development and Research
In office
January 1977 – October 1980
President Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by Emanuel S. Savas[1]
Personal details
Donna Edna Shalala

(1941-02-14) February 14, 1941 (age 79)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Education Western College (BA)
Syracuse University (MA, PhD)
Website House website

Donna Edna Shalala (Arabic: دونا إدنا شلالا‎; /ʃəˈllə/ shə-LAY-lə; born February 14, 1941) is an American politician and academic serving as the U.S. Representative for Florida's 27th congressional district since 2019. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 18th United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001.

Shalala served as President of the University of Miami, a private university in Coral Gables, Florida, from 2001 through 2015. Previously she was the President of Hunter College from 1980 until 1988 and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1988 to 1993. Shalala also served as Trustee Professor of Political Science and Health Policy at the University of Miami, and was President of the Clinton Foundation from 2015 to 2017.[2][3] She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 election, in a district which includes just over half of Miami as well as many of its eastern suburbs.[4]

Early life and education

Shalala was born in Cleveland, Ohio of Maronite Catholic Lebanese descent.[5] Her father sold real estate[6] and her mother, one of the first Lebanese-Americans to graduate from The Ohio State University,[7] was a teacher who worked two jobs and attended law school at night.[6][7] She has a twin sister, Diane Fritel.[8][9]

Shalala attended West Technical High School where she was the editor of the school newspaper.[8] She received a bachelor's degree in 1962 from Western College for Women.[a][11] From 1962 to 1964, she was among the first volunteers to serve in the Peace Corps.[12][13] Her placement took her to Iran where she worked with other volunteers to construct an agricultural college.[12] In 1970, she earned a Ph.D. from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.[14]

Academic career (1970–1992)

Shalala began her teaching career as a political science professor at Baruch College (part of the City University of New York), where she also was a member of the American Federation of Teachers union. In 1972, Shalala became a professor of politics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, a post she held until 1979.[15] In 1975, Shalala became the only woman on the Municipal Assistance Corporation, a group tasked with saving New York City from a financial crisis.[6] Concurrently, from 1977 to 1980, she served as the assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Carter Administration.[16]

Shalala's first experience with academic administration came on October 8, 1980, when she became the tenth president of Hunter College, serving in this capacity until 1988.[17]

Shalala next served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1988–1993).[18] At the time of her chancellorship, the university included 42,000 students, employed 16,500 people, and had an annual budget of $1 billion.[6] She was the first woman to lead a Big Ten Conference school, and only the second woman in the country to head a major research university.[19]

Under Shalala's chancellorship and with her support, the university adopted a broad speech code subjecting students to disciplinary action for communications that were perceived as hate speech. That speech code was later found unconstitutional by a federal judge.[20] Also while chancellor, Shalala supported passage of a revised faculty speech code broadly restricting "harmful" speech in both "noninstructional" and "instructional" settings. The faculty speech code was abolished ten years later, after a number of professors were investigated for alleged or suspected violations.[21] As Madison chancellor, Shalala, with then athletic director Pat Richter, interviewed and hired football coach Barry Alvarez who went on to become Wisconsin's all-time leader in football wins, with numerous appearances by Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl.[22]

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (1993–2001)

Shalala during her tenure as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Shalala with President Bill Clinton in 1993

Following a year serving as chair of the Children's Defense Fund (1992–1993), Shalala was nominated in 1992 by President-elect Bill Clinton for the position of United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.[6] The Washington Post labeled her "one of the most controversial Clinton Cabinet nominees".[20] Her nomination went before the Senate Finance Committee in January 1993.[8] At the start of her tenure, the Department of Health and Human Services employed 125,000 people and had a budget of $539 billion.[6]

Shalala served in this role for all eight years of his administration, becoming the nation's longest-serving HHS secretary. In 1996, Shalala was the designated survivor during Clinton's State of the Union address.[23]

She was the first Lebanese-American to serve in a Cabinet position.[24]

University of Miami presidency (2001–2015)

After the end of the Clinton administration in 2001, Shalala became president of the University of Miami (UM).[25] She created a UM fundraising campaign called "Momentum," designed to raise UM's endowment from approximately $750 million to $1 billion; the goal was later increased to $1.25 billion by the end of 2007.[26] In February 2012, the University of Miami announced Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami, with $906 million already raised at the time of the public launch. On October 26, 2012, UM announced that Momentum2 hit the $1 billion mark, on track to reach the fundraising goal of $1.6 billion in 2016.[citation needed]

Drawing on her experience after serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Shalala taught a course on the United States healthcare system every spring semester.[citation needed]

On January 20, 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Shalala had been paid almost a half-million dollars in 2010 to serve on the boards of three companies, two of which were run by UM trustees.[27] She served on the board of Lennar Corp,, a development company, from 2001-2012. When she left Lennar, the company reported it was to avoid a "conflict of interest." Lennar's CEO, Stuart Miller, had joined the UM Board of Trustees in 2002. Shalala rejoined Lennar in 2017 after she was no longer President of the University.[28]

In 2013, the University of Miami sold 88 acres of undeveloped Pine Rocklands, one of the last remnants of the imperiled habitat in Miami Dade County outside of Everglades National Park, to Ram Realty Services, for $22 million. The Miami New Times described this amount as "a complete steal for the developer in light of the relative worth of nearby property." Also in 2013, Ram Realty and Lennar Corp, worked on at least one project together in North Carolina.[28]

When Shalala ran for the US Congress in 2018, her candidacy was opposed by local environmentalists for her part in the sale of the UM pine rocklands site. Cully Waggoner, VP of the Pine Rocklands Commission, stated, ""She can't be trusted, and now she is running for Congress. How much more damage can she inflict on Miami?" Al Sunshine, a former TV news reporter and member of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition, wrote, "we want to let her know what WE THINK of her actions to sell off the UM South Campus to be bulldozed for more urban sprawl...For years we tried reaching out to her on this issue. For years, she ignored us."[28]

Shalala faced some criticism for her response to a nationally publicized custodial workers' strike at the University of Miami, which lasted from February 28, 2006, until May 1, 2006. Critics called UM's custodial workers among the lowest paid university-based custodians in the nation and alleged they were not earning a living wage. The strike prompted Shalala to raise wages. Shalala was also criticized for living in luxury while the custodians did not have health insurance.[29] Shalala criticized union organizer's tactics, including a sit-in that she said prevented students from attending classes.[29]

In the fall of 2007, Shalala was inducted into UM's Iron Arrow Honor Society.[citation needed]

On September 8, 2014, Shalala announced that she would be stepping down at the end of the 2014–2015 academic year.[30]

Clinton Foundation (2015–2017)

In 2015, Shalala took a leave of absence from her tenured professorship at UM to volunteer for the Clinton Foundation.[31] She followed her tenure as president of the University of Miami with being named chief executive officer of the Foundation.[32] According to The New York Times, Chelsea Clinton helped persuade Shalala to leave the Miami position, move to New York and head the foundation.[33] Shalala maintained a home in Miami and taught part-time at UM while heading the foundation in New York.[31]

Shalala led the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton was a leading candidate and the propriety of the foundation's activity came under scrutiny.[31] In a September 14, 2016, interview on MSNBC, Shalala admitted that there was “no question” that donors to the Clinton Foundation had been given “courtesy appointments” in the State Department while Hillary Clinton ran that department.[34] Shalala oversaw the termination of the Clinton Global Initiative during her tenure as CEO,[31] as well as other reductions in operations intended to avoid conflicts of interest if Clinton won the election.[35] She resisted calls by The Washington Post and USA Today to shut down the foundation entirely, arguing that "there are human beings around the world who would be affected by these decisions."[36]

Shalala left the Clinton Foundation in April 2017 to return to her full-time teaching position at UM; she was replaced by her former HHS deputy Kevin Thurm.[31]

2015 stroke

Following a September 2015 Clinton Global Initiative event held at the Sheraton New York, Shalala fell ill. It was subsequently reported by a foundation statement that she had suffered a stroke.[33][37] In early 2018, she said she had recovered.[38]

U.S. House of Representatives (2019–present)

2018 campaign

In March 2018, Shalala declared her candidacy in the Democratic primary for Florida's 27th congressional district.[39][40] The district voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but its House seat was held by 30-year incumbent Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.[38]

In an interview with WFOR-TV, Shalala stated that she supported universal healthcare coverage, but opposed a Medicare For All single-payer healthcare system because she believed that individuals who liked their current employment-based healthcare plans should be able to keep them.[41] On August 28, 2018, Shalala won the Democratic five-candidate primary over state Representative David Richardson. The outcome of the race was substantially closer than polling predicted, which had her leading consistently by double digits. She won with 31.9 percent of the vote, vs. 27.5% for Richardson.[42]

Shalala ran against Republican candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular anchorwoman for Miami Telemundo outlet WSCV, in the general election. Shalala's campaign emphasized her experience and sought to tie Salazar to President Donald Trump, who was unpopular in the district.[4] The race proved closer than expected, in part because Shalala does not speak Spanish; the 27th district is over 63 percent Latino. As late as a month before the election, polls showed Shalala either behind or practically tied with Salazar.[43] However, Shalala won the election at the age of 77, making her the second-oldest freshman Representative in history[4] after James B. Bowler who was elected at the age of 78 in 1953. Her victory returned the seat to the Democrats for the first time since the death of longtime congressman Claude Pepper in 1989.[citation needed]

Shalala was sworn in as a member of the 116th United States Congress on January 3, 2019. She is the oldest freshman member of the House.[citation needed]

On April 17, 2020, Shalala was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the COVID-19 Congressional Oversight Commission to oversee the implementation of the CARES Act.[44]


On December 18, 2019, Shalala voted to impeach President Donald Trump.[45]

Shalala was named a vice-chair of the 2020 Democratic National Convention.[46]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Other activities

Board memberships

Shalala served on the Board of Directors of the United States Soccer Federation.[47][failed verification] Shalala served as a member of the board of directors of Lennar Corporation from 2001–2012.[48][49] She served on the board of directors of Gannett Company from 2001 to 2011, retiring because of age limits.[50] The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on the conflict of interest of Shalala sitting on boards of property development companies.[51]

Co-chair of Presidential Commission

On March 6, 2007, President George W. Bush named Shalala and Bob Dole to head a presidential commission called the President's Commission On Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors. The commission was formed in response to a growing outcry over the care of wounded outpatient soldiers.[citation needed]

President Bush Meets with Co-Chairs of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors

The commission included seven other members, ranging from injured war veterans to the wife of a wounded staff sergeant who suffered burns across 70 percent of his body. Demands for corrective action arose after The Washington Post exposed living conditions in a decrepit Army-owned building just outside Walter Reed Hospital and highlighted obstacles and delays in the treatment of soldiers who suffered serious injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.[52] The commission subsequently issued several recommendations for improvement of these facilities.[citation needed]

Civic activities

In 1985, Shalala became a founding member of EMILY's List, a political action committee that seeks to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office.[53] Shalala served from 2001–2007[48] on the board of the Albert Shanker Institute, a small, three-member staff organization named for the former head of the American Federation of Teachers. She is an honorary board member of the American Iranian Council, an organization that seeks to promote closer U.S. relations with Iran.[54] She served[48] on the board of directors for Gannett Company.[citation needed]

Shalala serves as a co-leader of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.[55] She serves as a distinguished senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program and the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution.[56] She is also a member of Washington D.C based think tank, The Inter-American Dialogue.[57]

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius greets Shalala, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and former HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan prior to a bipartisan health reform implementation meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

Shalala also served as a panelist on the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, a working group of former high-ranking government officials and academic experts that put together a set of recommendations regarding the United States' defense capabilities against biological threats.[58]


On June 19, 2008, Shalala was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.[59] In 2010 she received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.[60] She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York in 2011.[61] In 2014, she was recognized by the Harry S Truman Library and Museum with the Harry S Truman Legacy of Leadership Award.[62] In 2019, Shalala was announced as one of the members of the inaugural class of the Government Hall of Fame.[63]

Shalala has been awarded more than 50 honorary degrees.[48]

Shalala has been elected to the Council on Foreign Relations; National Academy of Education; the National Academy of Public Administration; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Philosophical Society; the National Academy of Social Insurance; the American Academy of Political and Social Science; and the National Academy of Medicine.[61]

See also