Mary Sue Coleman, former president of the University of Iowa, was welcomed to the University by the University Board of Regents and community members May 29 as she was elected to be the University’s 13th president in a motion carried unanimously by the regents.
Coleman, who had been president of Iowa since 1995, began her term at the University of Michigan Aug. 1 under a five-year contract that was finalized at the June regents meeting.
“She will be a strong, creative, experienced, thoughtful and successful president of the University of Michigan,” Regent Rebecca McGowan (D-Ann Arbor) said. “And let it be said again and again, girls can do math and science.”
Regents also praised interim University President B. Joseph White, expressing gratitude and appreciation for his dedication and involvement in keeping the University running smoothly.
“The only thing more challenging than being president of this University would be being interim president,” Regent David Brandon (R-Ann Arbor) said.
Added Regent Kathy White (D-Ann Arbor) to White and his wife, Mary: “I’m very impressed at (your) deep commitment … I am basically speechless,” she said.
Though she was officially appointed in May, Coleman remained at Iowa for the following two months
“I have two responsibilities that I have to do going forward,” she said, referring to both her position at Iowa and her need to prepare for her new role in Ann Arbor.
White remained in charge of the University until the beginning of August but said he would confer with Coleman on any major decisions made between May and then.
Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms), chair of the Board of Regents and the Presidential Search Committee, said he is confident Coleman is ready for the job.
“She was quite simply the best of the best. We think the University and the community will benefit from her leadership,” he said. “As an administrator, she’s smart and she’s tough and she knows how big places like this run.”
He added that Coleman is well-known in higher education circles and that her name is on “everybody’s short list of leaders of higher education.”
Deitch cited Coleman’s achievements and credentials as part of what made her an appealing candidate, commenting on the breadth of her experiences and involvement in research and a variety of other areas.
“We believe she will prove to be one of the great leaders of the University’s history,” he said. “We will be fortunate to have her.”
Regarding the search process, Deitch called the search “focused, thorough and thoughtful.”
Deitch also addressed the contributions of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, composed of faculty, students, staff and alumni, which met 15 times over five months to investigate the pool of candidates.
It was “a truly extraordinary commitment by 16 people with very busy lives,” Deitch said.
The University community at large had a chance to be part of the process as well, as 25 meetings were held to give the community a chance to voice opinions and hopes for the next University leader.
“The election of the next president mattered to everyone – everyone cared. It reaffirmed our commitment,” said Rackham Dean Earl Lewis, chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.
Lewis said over 200 people were nominated and reviewed “in one form or another” in a process that “turned nominations into candidates.” He said the advisory committee presented a pool of candidates, not finalists, to the regents.
“It was a process that we understood required a high level of confidentiality,” he said. He added that the job of the search committee was to create a rich and deep pool full of candidates who were qualified to lead the University in many different ways.
Coleman said that if it had been an open search she would not have considered candidacy. She is not the only one who would have refused candidacy, Lewis said.
Lewis said the openness in Harvard’s recent presidential search did not seem to harm former University President Lee Bollinger – who Coleman is replacing. Bollinger was announced last year to be a finalist and then lost to former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, he believes Bollinger is the exception to the rule.
“Everyone involved are people who are themselves in a position of responsibility,” Lewis said. “In many other instances, individuals will find themselves compromised if they are publicly identified as a candidate in a public search.”
When asked about a list of finalists, Deitch would not offer a list but said “there is one finalist and she is with us (now).”
Making a list of candidates public, even after the announcement, would violate a promise to those who chose to accept their nominations, Lewis said.
Though she said she never intended to leave Iowa and was not looking for another job when University committee members asked her to consider the position, Coleman said she is happy to be part of the University community and looks forward to “the experience of a lifetime.”
“I just wanted you to know what a thrill this is,” she said, adding that part of the thrill of being elected University president comes from her passion for public university education.
“I have to tell you, when I called my mother, my 88-year-old mother – she lives in Colorado – she cried and she understood what it meant to be named president,” Coleman said.
“Iowa is a fabulous place to be,” she added. “I was very happy at Iowa. Many good things were happening at Iowa. I agreed to become a candidate because the University (of Michigan) is such a great university.”
As president at Iowa, Coleman said she was involved with students on a number of levels, ranging from making Madonna videos of herself for the school’s dance marathon to working with student organizations and student government to making herself available for student comments.
The president always makes an appearance at the school’s dance marathon, she said. “I always make a fool of myself,” Coleman added.
Besides her Madonna impersonation, Coleman said there are other things she would like the student body to know about her. “I’d like students to know that I’m an open person, accessible, that I care about the ideas students have,” she said.
At Iowa, she visited sororities and fraternities, answered student email and started a Fireside Chats program co-sponsored by the University of Iowa student government, where 500 students a month are invited to informally meet and discuss topics of interest, she said, adding that the event is publicized and open to all students, regardless of if they receive an invitation, she said.
Coleman is the first woman president at the University, but said she did not feel that being a woman holding the title would change the job description.
“This is a hard job, a stressful job for men and women and I think the pressures are the same,” she said.
With regard to issues the University is currently facing, including the Ed Martin conviction, Coleman said she looks forward to the challenges as opportunities.
“I am committed to having the truth come out and I am dedicated to making it right because that’s what we should do,” she said.
As far as the president’s role in the Ed Martin investigation and other issues, she said integrity is a central issue.
“The president is going to be involved with the regents to see that the information comes out. It is extremely important for the public to have absolute confidence in the integrity of the University,” she said.