On the first day of classes at Florida International University, the school’s provost, general counsel and nearly half its trustees met in a conference room at the Coral Gables Biltmore hotel to discuss the naming of a campus. Or rather the unnaming.
The name in question, that of former university president Modesto “Mitch” Maidique, has graced the university’s main campus in West Miami-Dade for the past nine years.
Monday, a board of trustees committee voted to recommend stripping his name off the campus. The full board will consider the matter in two weeks.
The honor was bestowed in 2009 when Maidique ended his 23-year run as president of Florida International University, an era marked by rising enrollment and the construction of gleaming new buildings.
In addition to the climbing enrollment and physical improvements, Maidique’s tenure saw the school make gains in almost every higher education metric. Research increased to levels that earned the school a top-tier designation and law and medical schools were launched.
Naming the campus was part of his negotiated severance package, one trustee recalled. (Not true, Maidique said later, and the June 2009 meeting minutes seem to reflect that.)
Maidique’s popularity in the FIU community has waned of late.
The former president has not shied away from criticizing FIU, including its handing of the bridge that collapsed on March 15, killing six people.
Several board members at the meeting referenced their displeasure with Maidique, pointing specifically to an op-ed he penned in 2016 blaming the “dormant” board for allowing “the trajectory of this one-time rising star of higher education to be interrupted.”
Michael Joseph, who chaired the committee, stated that he had been pushing for the board to consider renaming the campus since shortly after he was appointed in 2015.
Jose Servin, who represents the student body on the board, said students are “absolutely indifferent” to the dispute and are “upset that the university is spending time and money on this, quite frankly.”
FIU Provost Kenneth Furton said universities generally do not name campuses after people.
“We couldn’t find any peer institution that has a campus named after an individual,” he said.
Broward College up the road has a campus named after its former president, A. Hugh Adams.
It was suggested that if trustees do name the campus after someone, it should be someone who donates a large amount of money, nothing under $100 million. Trustees can find some other way to honor Maidique, they said.
Cesar Alvarez, a lawyer and trustee, was the only trustee present opposed to the recommendation. He argued that the board should speak to Maidique first and do a more detailed legal review to make sure the removal is not seen as vindictive.
“I am stunned that this subcommittee would recommend changing the name of this campus,” Maidique told the Miami Herald. “I am the only Hispanic in the nation to have ever been honored with having his or her name on a major university campus.”