In impromptu 7-6 vote, FIU board drops campus name change

Florida International University graduates march across the stage to get diplomas at a ceremony held at the Modesto Maidique Campus in 2012.
Florida International University graduates march across the stage to get diplomas at a ceremony held at the Modesto Maidique Campus in 2012. Miami Herald file photo

Florida International University’s main campus will remain named after former president — and frequent university critic — Modesto A. Maidique.

FIU’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday put an end to the months-long task of exploring whether to remove Maidique’s name from the University Park campus in an impromptu 7-6 vote. While some trustees said the idea appeared vindictive against Maidique for his criticism of FIU, others held that it was purely a business decision that put FIU in line with other universities with unnamed campuses.

All agreed on this: They were tired of the media attention.

“I think this is not working out for the best interest of FIU,” said trustee Cesar Alvarez, who led the vote, adding that he would like to see the board “put aside all the pettiness ... and just focus on the best interests of FIU going forward.”

“Drop this name change and get off of this bad press,” he added. “I’m just hoping that for the betterment of FIU we can drop this and move on.”

In May, the board revived efforts to seek legal counsel on options to rename — or “unname” — the campus, which the board of trustees renamed in 2009 to honor Maidique, who had stepped down after 23 years as president of FIU.

Former FIU President Modesto Maidique Miami Herald file photo

Trustee Michael Joseph asked the board’s legal counsel for guidance to address, “conduct of the president in the manner in which we continue to have disparagement of the university.” He also saw an opportunity to rename the campus for a $100 million donor.

At the next meeting, chairwoman Claudia Puig created an ad hoc committee, appointing Joseph as the chairman, to explore options. And at that committee’s meeting Tuesday, the group did not take any action on a plan suggested by trustee Natasha Lowell, blaming a poor recap of its previous meeting.

Lowell proposed a plan in August that suggested an “alternative naming option” for the campus and identifying another way to honor Maidique while involving him in the process. Five out of six committee members approved the recommendation. In Tuesday’s meeting, she said she was “a little too premature” to suggest a plan without knowing how much it would cost and who would pay for it.

Lowell tried to abstain from Wednesday’s vote, but legal counsel said she was required to vote since she did not have a conflict of interest. She was counted among those against Alvarez’s motion.

Maidique has been a vocal critic of the board and the university. Many trustees were outspoken about their frustration with an op-ed piece Maidique penned that was published in the Miami Herald in 2016 that described the board as “dormant.” Maidique has also been critical of how FIU handled the March 15 pedestrian bridge collapse, which killed six people.

He retained a law firm that sent letters to each trustee Friday calling the vote to change the campus’ name illegal.

“In closing, please understand that President Maidique has no desire to litigate against the Board and the school he has raised as his own child,” the letter read. “Nevertheless, if the Board pursues this misguided action, then we will fight this battle to its bitter end. This fight will not be limited to a civil court.”

Puig, president and general manager over local media in Miami at Univision Communications, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the board’s efforts to unname the campus had nothing to do with Maidique, calling media reports “fake news.”

“Media or whatever has hijacked this to make something about this that this is not,” she said.

Puig, however, ended up voting in favor of dropping efforts to change the name, though she said she wanted it to be handled a different way.

“I want to have unity on the board,” she said.

Trustee Jose Sirven, who is also the university’s student body president, switched his vote from in favor of renaming the campus during committee meetings to keeping the name after he said he polled students beyond the 25 in his circle of friends.

“I think there comes a time where you need to put your personal preference aside and vote in the way of the people you represent,” Sirven said. “I’m going to have to vote with the students.”

After the vote, Puig avoided a Miami Herald reporter. FIU sent out a statement on her behalf.

“The board is united in wanting to proceed in a way that supports FIU, that celebrates our accomplishments and that is in the best interest of our students, faculty, staff and alumni,” the statement said.

Reached Wednesday, Maidique issued a statement on the board’s decision.

“Chairman Claudia Puig and student body president Jose Sirven have rescued the soul of the university,” he said. “I am indebted to them and to the five others that voted with them because they have protected my child, FIU.”

Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.