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'Suntan U' Tries to Shed Cushy Image

University of Miami may be best known for football, but President Donna E. Shalala envisions a future as a top-tier school.

January 03, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

Her first senior academic appointment, cellular biologist James H. Wyche, spent 14 years on the faculty at Brown University, considered one of the nation's top schools. Now dean of UM's College of Arts and Sciences, Wyche has long been active in trying to recruit African Americans and other minorities into the sciences.

In the diversity of its student body, Miami already may be a national leader, Shalala said. "We probably have the highest percentage of Hispanic medical students outside of Puerto Rico," she says.

And what other university in the United States, she asks, has fielded an offensive line in football that spoke a total of 11 languages?

In the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of American colleges, Miami was last rated as one of the country's "second-tier universities," that is, not among the top 50 schools.

"You can't compare it with Berkeley or UCLA from an academic point of view, but as far as I'm concerned, they are getting close," said Pong Srisanit, 27, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Thailand. "They are improving the academic level."

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