Coleman, a national leader on higher education and science issues, served as AAU chair in 2011-12. She will succeed Hunter R. Rawlings III, who has served as president since June 2011. Rawlings informed the AAU board of directors in May that he would retire from AAU next May, when his contract expires.
Coleman, who retired as U-M president in 2014 after serving for 12 years, co-chairs the Lincoln Project, an initiative of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences to support public research universities. She also serves on the board of trustees of the Society for Science & the Public. She is a national spokesperson on the educational value of affirmative action and diverse perspectives in the classroom.
AAU board chair Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, called Coleman "the ideal person to lead AAU."
"During her tenure at both Iowa and the University of Michigan, Mary Sue was universally regarded as one of the very best presidents in the country," Gutmann said. "In her strong and sustained university leadership, she has demonstrated the essential role of higher education in the lives of individuals and our society and world.
"She also knows AAU well, having served previously as board chair. I cannot imagine anyone better suited than Mary Sue to advance the research agenda that is at the center of AAU's mission and that is also absolutely critical to the future of our nation."
During her tenure at Michigan, Coleman helped launch the Obama Administration's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. In 2010, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke named her co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Under her leadership, U-M launched and expanded academic partnerships with universities in China, Ghana, South Africa, Brazil and India. She also announced a groundbreaking partnership between the U-M and Google to digitize the text of the university's 7-million-volume library.
"Hunter Rawlings has done an exceptional job as AAU president in advancing our collective impact as research institutions," Coleman said. "I am eager to continue the work of elevating the American research university as essential to our nation's prosperity, security and well-being."
Gutmann also praised Rawlings.
"Mary Sue will succeed someone who is doing extraordinary work for AAU," she said. "Hunter Rawlings is a wise and forceful voice for all that is best about American higher education. Replacing him is no small task, but we have found someone eminently worthy of that charge in Mary Sue Coleman."
U-M President Mark Schlissel praised the selection of Coleman to lead AAU.
"President Emerita Coleman has an incredible record as a thoughtful advocate for research and education," he said. "All of AAU's member campuses will now benefit from her leadership and dedication to advancing the impact of our nation's research universities.
"No one better understands the challenges and opportunities facing higher education than Mary Sue Coleman. I deeply appreciate her willingness to take on this crucial role for our nation, and I look forward to continuing to work with her."
Coleman also served as president of the University of Iowa from 1995 to 2002. She served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico, after serving as vice chancellor for research and graduate education at the University of North Carolina. She was a member of the biochemistry faculty at the University of Kentucky for 19 years.
Coleman earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Grinnell College and her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina.
"I am thrilled that I will be leaving AAU in the capable hands of Mary Sue Coleman," Rawlings said. "She has 20 years' experience leading two wonderful AAU universities. But more than that, she has demonstrated courage and national leadership on some of the most important issues facing U.S. higher education, from sustaining diversity in the classroom to making research universities an even greater force for educational and economic progress."
AAU is an association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian public and private research universities. It focuses on issues such as funding for research, research policy issues, and graduate and undergraduate education. AAU member universities are on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship and solutions that contribute to the nation's economy, security and well-being. AAU's 60 U.S. universities award nearly half of all U.S. doctoral degrees and 55 percent of those in STEM fields.