Education

Did candidate to lead Miami Dade College meet with gang leaders? Questions raised.

Miami Dade College presidential claims she invited, then enrolled, gang members. Officials have doubts.

Reagan Romali, one of four finalists to replace Eduardo J. Padron as president of Miami Dade College, told the presidential search committee about how she invited leaders of three gangs into her office and encouraged them to enroll at Truman College.
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Reagan Romali, one of four finalists to replace Eduardo J. Padron as president of Miami Dade College, told the presidential search committee about how she invited leaders of three gangs into her office and encouraged them to enroll at Truman College.

Reagan Romali’s interview for the job of Miami Dade College president was going well right up until she was asked about how she dealt with inner city crime in Chicago.

Romali, who served as the president of Harry S Truman College on the north side of Chicago from 2011 to 2017, told the presidential search committee that she had done the “unorthodox” to try to reduce violence around campus.

“One thing that I did is I called in the leaders of all three gangs,” she told the committee in a video interview.

Romali took a breath: “Yes, it’s true. And I met with them. And I said, listen, you clearly have strong business sense. You have a sense of familiarity and building teams. You could use those strengths that you have and better your life if you come here for an education.”

“They kind of looked at each other and they agreed,” she continued. “And so that dramatically reduced the crime on campus. And guess what? Many of them enrolled in classes and graduated.”

That anecdote came toward the end of Romali’s roughly 75-minute interview in June. Search committee members were left wondering about the gang story. One member pointed out that Romali, currently the superintendent-president of Long Beach Community College in California, never mentioned that experience in her application.

“Hard to believe almost, right?” said former federal prosecutor Bob Martinez after the committee ended the video conference with Romali.

So hard to believe, in fact, that Board of Trustees chairman Bernie Navarro, who also heads the search committee, asked the headhunting firm being paid up to $150,000 to find a successor to outgoing President Eduardo J. Padron to investigate her story.

Efforts by the Miami Herald to corroborate Romali’s Chicago story were unsuccessful.

Romali, who is the first of four finalists giving presentations at the Wolfson campus Monday and Tuesday, did not return multiple emails, calls and text messages asking for specifics about that story.

Pervez Rahman, who served as vice president of academic and student affairs under Romali until he retired in 2017, said he watched a delivery man shot and killed in gang crossfire across the street from Truman College. He said he remembers conversations about gang violence between police and politicians but doesn’t recall Romali’s playing a role.

“I do not recall ever being informed Reagan was having a meeting with these gangs, and I was quite aware of her schedule,” he said. “However, I did not know where she was at all different times.”

Katheryn Hayes, a spokeswoman for City Colleges of Chicago which oversees seven colleges including Truman College, said the colleges were “not in a position to be able to confirm or deny this information.” She encouraged a reporter to “speak to Dr. Romali about specific contacts who would be best able to confirm this information.”

Cheryl Hyman, the former chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago and now a vice provost at Arizona State University, said through a spokesman that Romali was a “great president who did many innovative things during her tenure.”

While Hyman asked the campus presidents she worked with to be active in the community, “she did not ask them to report back on each instance of outreach they engaged in,” ASU spokesman Skip Derra wrote in an email.

“She does not recall the specific incident mentioned,” he said.

Chicago Police were unable to check Romali’s claim.

“I am not familiar with this story,” wrote Richard Thale in a text message. Thale is the courts advocate for the Town Hall Police District, a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy beat facilitator and president of the Uptown Chicago Commission. “Reagan was a great administrator during her time at Truman College.”

Navarro said he went off script to ask Romali about inner city violence in Chicago and how the lessons she learned there could translate to Miami. He said he did not have prior knowledge about Romali’s alleged meeting with gang leaders.

“You don’t need to make something up to be the beacon of hope for the community,” Navarro said. “I don’t know why she would make something up. That would be an issue.”

Kim Morrisson, a managing director at Diversified, did not return calls and emails requesting comment. Diversified reached out to Romali to apply for the job. She was immediately placed into the “active” candidates category for priority consideration.

Romali listed a doctorate in education from Walden University, an online for-profit university. She also cited improvements among earned degrees and certificates at Truman College that are called into question by a report that says City Colleges of Chicago, ”softened standards and manipulated data in the pursuit of better graduation rates.”

The other finalists giving presentations on Monday and Tuesday are Divina Grossman, president and chief academic officer of University of St. Augustine of Health Sciences in Florida; Paul Broadie II, president of Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College in Connecticut; and Lenore P. Rodicio, executive vice president and provost at Miami Dade College, the sole internal candidate. All presentations will be livestreamed at www.mdc.edu/livestream/.

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida. She previously covered education for the Tampa Bay Times.
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