Education

Two candidates for Miami Dade College president come to town. Questions linger for one.

Miami Dade College president candidate, Reagan Romali, visits campus

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

Two of the four candidates vying for the top job at Miami Dade College spent the day in town pitching why they should be the college’s next president.

But one of those finalists still couldn’t corroborate a story she told the presidential search committee in June about how she convinced three rival Chicago gang leaders to meet in her office, enroll in college and graduate.

Reagan Romali, currently the superintendent-president at Long Beach Community College District in California, was asked about it over a cafe con leche at Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana. She toured the Wolfson Campus and gave a public presentation later Monday.

Divina Grossman, president and chief academic officer of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, also gave a presentation Monday and toured the North Campus. Paul Broadie, president of Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College in Connecticut, and Lenore Rodicio, the sole internal candidate and executive vice president and provost, will be interviewed Tuesday.

The MDC Board of Trustees will interview all four candidates again Wednesday before holding a vote that evening.

Romali said Monday morning that “all of” a recent Miami Herald article about concerns over that story about the gang leaders was inaccurate. Romali did not respond last week to multiple requests for comment by the Herald and has not asked for a correction to the story as of Monday evening.

When asked why Romali didn’t respond over a period of two days, she said she was busy preparing for an event with donors. “My students are far more important than my personal reputation,” she said.

Romali said the meeting with gang leaders took place early in her six-year tenure beginning in 2011 as president of Harry S Truman College in the north side of Chicago. She said she came into contact with the gang leaders “on the streets” because “everybody knows who everybody is.”

She said she could remember what the gang leaders were wearing, but couldn’t remember if the college’s director of security was present or who else might have knowledge about the meeting. She said the meeting lasted a half an hour.

“I don’t want to portray it as a kumbaya where everybody walked out hugging and said let’s all be friends, but it was a moment where they said maybe we will consider an education,” she said. “That was a real pivotal moment in my life.”

Romali declined to name which gangs the leaders belonged to, first citing a federal student privacy law and telling a reporter to search “Chicago gang map” on the Internet. When a reporter pointed out that that law doesn’t apply to protecting the names of gangs, she said it was a “very personal moment” in her career.

“If I betray people’s confidence, who am I?” she said.

“What I want for you guys to have is have a president who keeps confidences,” she added. “I don’t want to be a person that talks and is a blabbermouth just because I’m put under pressure.”

Romali sent an email late Sunday night to the headhunting firm leading the presidential search with 16 screenshots of articles about gun violence around Truman and efforts to make the campus safer. Nothing in that email mentioned gang leaders meeting in her office. She did not respond to requests for comment Monday evening.

Tressa Feher, the chief of staff to Chicago Alderman James Cappleman, said Monday that the politician knew of gang leaders that enrolled at Truman College but did not know Romali’s role in that. She said his office did not have any proof like emails or photos.

“It’s not surprising if that happened at all,” said Fehrer. “The alderman did not know of a specific meeting of that happening.”

Efforts to corroborate Romali’s story with Chicago Police were unsuccessful.

“I just wasn’t able to locate anyone with any direct knowledge,” wrote Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in a text message Monday.

Romali’s lively presentation focused on building on outgoing president Eduardo J. Padron’s legacy and continuing the college’s social justice crusades as “Democracy’s College.”

Grossman honed in on her local connections and pitched a streamlined journey from Miami-Dade County Public Schools to MDC to Florida International University. She previously served as a department chair and vice president for engagement at FIU.

Board of Trustees chair Bernie Navarro, who also heads the presidential search committee, said he was pleased with the college’s professionalism in the search process.

He said he liked Grossman’s local roots and was impressed with Romali’s command of the room and presentation skills.

“I don’t want to cloud anyone’s judgment yet but there’s a lot of questions to be asked and answered,” he said of Romali. “Now we have to check some of these stats that it’s aligned with her successes.”

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.

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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