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Upcoming president has hard act to follow

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 30, 2013

With great power comes great responsibility — a mantra University President Mary Sue Coleman knows all too well.

As Coleman prepares to step down July 2014, the responsibility for finding a new president will fall on the eight members of the University’s Board of Regents and seven faculty members, who form the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. The committee, assisted by Alison Ranney, a search consultant from Russell Reynolds Associates, has just concluded a series of six public forums to answer several key questions: What qualities are desired in the next University president? What opportunities and challenges lie in store for the University?

Coleman has left an indelible mark during her nearly 12 years at the University — its longest serving president since Harlan Hatcher retired in 1967 after 16 years at the helm. In Coleman’s time as president, she has been called upon to serve in a number of roles, including fundraiser-in-chief, diplomat for the University on an increasing global stage, facilitator of change, advocate for the University at all levels of government and symbolic leader of all three University of Michigan campuses. Her successor will need to assume all those roles and more as they begin their own tenure at the University.

In an e-mail interview, Regent Katherine White (D), vice chair of the Board of Regents and acting spokeswoman during the search process, referred to a list posted by the search committee detailing their expectations for potential candidates. These include the ability to serve as a national advocate and spokesperson for the University, increase racial and socioeconomic diversity, address future challenges, and be a model of humility, integrity and passion for student support.

The University has been the beneficiary of three large donations from Stephen Ross, Charles Munger and the Zell Family Foundation within the past year. The next president will have the same opportunity and challenge of engaging with University alumni and potential donors.

Coleman helped exceed fundraising goals by $700 million in the University’s four-year Michigan Difference capital campaign — which concluded in 2008 — with a total $3.2 billion, surpassing the original $2.5 billion goal. While the overall goal of the next fundraising campaign, “Victors for Michigan,” hasn't been announced, more than $1 billion will be earmarked for financial aid.

Coleman works daily with Vice President for Development Jerry May and the University’s Office of Development, as will Coleman’s successor, who will immediately inherit the remainder of the next fundraising campaign.

May said Coleman holds a dedicated “vision” and “superior interpersonal skills” that are necessary for a University president to be an effective fundraiser. Her passion for fundraising allows her to garner these historic donations: renovations and plans are already underway.

“She is very supportive of the overall program of fundraising,” May said. “She contributes to it, and another way of being supportive of it is that she works and builds relationships with the most generous donors in constituency to the rest of the University.”

May added that he hopes to have a “seamless transition” between the two presidents, as Coleman’s 12 years of relationship-building will impact the work of her successor.

“That’s part of the seamless transition down a long line,” May said.