Education

FIU's board isn't happy with the main campus' namesake. $100M might get them to change it.

Florida International University's main campus near Sweetwater was renamed the Modesto A. Maidique campus in 2009 in honor of past FIU president Modesto Maidique, pictured in 2013. Maidique is now a professor emeritus in the College of Business.
Florida International University's main campus near Sweetwater was renamed the Modesto A. Maidique campus in 2009 in honor of past FIU president Modesto Maidique, pictured in 2013. Maidique is now a professor emeritus in the College of Business. Miami Herald file photo

In 2009, Florida International University's Board of Trustees bid farewell to its departing president of 23 years with a swell parting gift.

Grateful for Modesto Maidique's hand in doubling enrollment, expanding research expenditures and launching a law school and a medical school, the board unanimously voted to rename the university's original home as the Modesto A. Maidique campus.

But nine years later, at least one trustee is fed up with Maidique's "disparagement of the university." Other trustees see an opportunity to offer naming rights in return for a $100 million donation.

The board decided to form a committee to look into three options: transferring Maidique's name to another campus asset to clear the way for a donor interested in the campus' naming rights, creating a policy that would keep Maidique's name until a donor is found or removing Maidique's name without renaming the campus.

"It’s probably the No. 1 donor opportunity I believe this university would have," said trustee Michael Joseph, who has been pushing for a year to explore the legality of renaming the campus. He asked the board's legal counsel, Carlos Castillo, for guidance at the May 23 board meeting to address "Conduct of the president in the manner in which we continue to have disparagement of the university."

Joseph alluded to Maidique's criticism of the board and outspokenness about FIU's pedestrian bridge collapse on March 15 that killed six people, including one student, but he did not elaborate in the meeting. Maidique has been quoted in news stories talking about how the bridge failure is usually the result of multiple problems and how the tragedy could've been prevented.

Joseph did not respond to requests for comment.

At the board's June 6 meeting, Castillo pointed out that the board's motion in 2009 reserved the right, at any time in Maidique's lifetime, to reconsider the naming. Castillo said current policy from the Board of Governors, the governing body for the state university system, prohibits the honorific naming of any university facility, including a building, road, bridge, park, recreational complex, for any active board member or employee.

That policy was not in effect in 2009. Maidique is currently a professor emeritus in the College of Business.

Maidique, who said he had not spoken to any trustees about the renaming of the campus, told the Miami Herald he was "amazed" at the trustees' discussions.

"How many universities in America have a president that added law, engineering, medicine .... Division 1 athletics?" he said. "If you find anyone like that, I’d say they name the main campus after him."

Board Chair Claudia Puig, who was on the board when the campus was renamed, said her stance has evolved since she learned of the Board of Governors' policy.

"I agree that it was the wrong time and wrong reasons," she said at the June 6 meeting. "In hindsight I still stand firm that that board at that time, with the evidence and the information and what we had, made the right decision based on the circumstances we had at the time."

"Today, the world has evolved," she added. She recommended forming a committee to look into the naming.

Puig told the Herald that no one has been appointed to the committee and declined to comment further. According to the recording of the meeting, Puig said the board would discuss the committee's recommendation at its next meeting in September.

Board members were split on stripping Maidique's name. Some said the timing wasn't right.

"I have a hard time as a university thinking that as much as he’s being critical of all of us, that because someone is critical we decide to make this change," said trustee Cesar Alvarez, who was also on the board with Puig in 2009. "I think we just need to be realistic. If on the other hand, there was a real donor willing to do this, then that’s an economics issue we need to weigh very carefully."

"It is problematic to do it," he said. "I am torn."

Trustee Dean Colson warned board members that if they stripped his name off the campus, Maidique would complain that he's not allowed to openly talk and criticize the administration.

“I think the timing of this is not great," said Colson, who said it was a mistake to rename the campus in 2009 and would be opposed to renaming the campus now, as other state universities do not have named main campuses. "I’m sorry we’re all being criticized but you know people say bad things about me all the time.”

Trustee Gerald Grant, an FIU alumnus, said Maidique has made false claims about FIU but did not specify. He agreed that the board should consider its options in renaming the campus.

Trustee Kathleen Wilson, speaking as the chair of the faculty senate, told the Miami Herald that faculty members were not consulted when the board chose to rename the campus in 2009. She said she took a straw poll of 35 members at a recent faculty senate meeting and found that they were "overwhelmingly in support" of not naming the campus at all.

"There was an overwhelming sense that it had not been a great idea to name the university after an individual, especially who was not a donor," Wilson said. "But they did feel that Dr. Maidique had made significant contributions and should be honored in some other way."

Perhaps Maidique would help court a future $100 million donor, suggested trustee Natasha Lowell.

"If someone is willing to give $200 million, I’d be happy to," Maidique told the Herald.

Why $200 million? Maidique said FIU's campus assets are worth around $1 billion, and naming rights usually cost around 15 to 20 percent of the building, although he said the board would be hard-pressed to find a gift of that magnitude. Board members never said how they came to the figure of $100 million.

As for facing backlash for being openly critical, Maidique said punishing a professor for expressing a contrary opinion goes against the fundamental tenets of a university's academic freedom.

Maidique believes the board's contempt began after he penned an opinion piece published in the Miami Herald in 2016, in which he described the board as "dormant."

"At the end of the day they have to live with their decisions and their (consciences) and I have to live with mine," he said.

Colleen Wright can be reached at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.
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