Education

Miami Dade College tries to accommodate president candidates who want to remain in the dark

Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, during a ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at Miami Dade College to celebrate its second annual I AM MDC Day. Sept. 6 marks the first day of classes when the college opened its doors in 1960 with 1,428 eager students.
Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, during a ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at Miami Dade College to celebrate its second annual I AM MDC Day. Sept. 6 marks the first day of classes when the college opened its doors in 1960 with 1,428 eager students. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The college with the country’s largest undergraduate class is searching for a new president and likely offering a cool $500,000 salary to whomever gets the job. They’ve agreed to pay up to $150,000 to a head-hunter and spent more than two months so far wooing candidates.

But in order to get the best possible crop of candidates — and accommodate a perhaps growing group of a half-dozen mystery candidates — college leaders were willing Thursday to massage the selection process by creating a last-minute window for dark horses to slide into a round of finalist interviews.

“There’s nothing secret or hidden behind this,” John Mestepey of Diversified Search said Thursday, explaining that some potential applicants don’t want their names to become public under a search being conducted under Florida’s Sunshine Laws. “But they can wait, we’re saying, until just before your interviews start, which compresses the start of that exposure.”

With applications due June 3, a selection committee led by MDC Board of Trustees Chairman Bernie Navarro agreed to give Mestepey and a colleague discretion to add additional candidates to the list of finalists up until about a week before they meet to conduct interviews on June 19 and 20. Navarro said he’s heard from interested candidates who are worried about burning their current job by applying to become college president.

“There’s a lot of good people,’ he said. “I’ve seen it. I’ve already seen it. It’s difficult.”

It’s unclear who’s in the group of mystery candidates, as Mestepey and Diverse’s Kim Morrisson declined to name them when asked.

For now, the college is actively considering five candidates: Gateway Community College President Paul Brodie II; Cerritos Community College President Jose Fierro, College of New Rochelle President William Latimer, Universidad Metropolitana Chancellor Carlos Padin Bibloni and Miami Dade College Executive Vice President Lenore Rodicio.

Another four candidates are still in the running, but have been given a lower-tier status. All candidates under consideration come from an academic setting.

The committee appeared surprised after realizing that the minimal requirement of a doctoral degree included “terminal” doctorates like a juris doctor. Former MDC Board Chair and state attorney Bob Martinez quipped that he never had to write a thesis in law school.

Malou Harrison, president of MDC’s North and InterAmerican campuses, noted that deans at the college are required to have an academic doctorate.

“In terms of the president, my interpretation here is that the requirement is an academic doctorate and not a professional doctorate,” she said.

Navarro said the board interpreted the word “doctorate” during a February workshop to mean a terminal degree, which would qualify those with law degrees, despite the requirements posted on the college’s website requiring a doctoral degree. They discussed clarifying the language laying out the minimal requirements for the public.

“That’s always an issue,” Navarro said. “Academics want to be guided by an academic.”

That workshop was held before four new Republican trustees were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to MDC’s board. They were sworn in Wednesday and green-lit the search process.

Eduardo Padrón, who is stepping down from leading the college after nearly a quarter century, said Wednesday after the Board of Trustees meeting that he’s distancing himself from the presidential search “by choice.”

“I feel we have a very strong search committee capable of requiring the correct candidates,” he said.

Asked if Padrón groomed a successor, “We believe in succession planning,” he said. “I would say we have very capable people in the institution.”

Rodicio is the sole internal candidate on the list of five “active” candidates. A representative from the hired search firm said there’s a perception that there’s a strong candidate internally.

Padrón emphasized that his successor should meet the minimal requirements, adding that they represent the values of MDC.

Padrón has a history of run-ins with a Republican-controlled Legislature. The search committee has emphasized the need for a candidate who can work well with Tallahassee. He said he wasn’t pressured out of the job.

“No,” Padrón said. “I don’t let any pressure get to me.”

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