Education

Miami Dade College hasn’t picked a new leader. Some in the search say it’s a fix.

Ever since Miami Dade College’s trustees called off last week’s vote to select a new president, local political leaders have ramped up their criticism that the search appears rigged.

Even the appointed officials involved in the selection process themselves have gone public with their concerns.

The rhetoric surrounding who should replace the retiring president Eduardo J. Padron — and how the Board of Trustees should go about it — has escalated publicly since last week’s 6-1 vote to reboot the search process. Just one of four finalists for the job continues on, and it’s unclear even what the college’s next steps are.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who was at odds with Padron over opening early voting sites on Miami Dade College campuses last year, tweeted that the college’s selection process “has gone haywire.”

“Some new board members’ attempts 2 lower standards gives impression an insider deal is being cooked,” he wrote. “Our residents & alum deserve an honest, transparent process.”

Thirteen of the 17 members of the presidential search committee wrote a letter condemning the board for discarding their months of work. “Simply put, the board’s decision is a travesty,” the letter read.

Among those members who signed the letter: United Way of Miami-Dade president Maria C. Alonso, MasTec CEO Jose Mas and Miami Foundation CEO Javier Alberto Soto.

Five of those search committee members who are current or former MDC professors filed a lawsuit in circuit court that claims the board of trustees “arbitrarily and capriciously violated its established process.” With the backing of the United Faculty of Miami Dade College, they’ve called on a judge to compel the board to reinstate and finish the selection process previously established.

Faculty gathered at college’s West Campus in Doral to make a formal announcement Wednesday morning.

“What they’ve said is the process is absolutely credible and they relied on it for one name. Now to say that they’re canceling all other applicants, they’re going on their own without any oversight, is arbitrary,” said union attorney and former union president Mark Richard. “The law does not allow one to arbitrarily take away this legal right and commitment.”

The union has requested that all documents, data and communications relating to the search be preserved. Miami Dade College has already taken down the web page listing the search committee members and minimum job requirements.

MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta said trustees will not discuss “anything related to the search process” until the next special meeting is held, which hasn’t been scheduled.

“Regarding today’s announcement, the faculty and its union are free to do as they wish on these matters,” Mendieta wrote in an email.

Taxpayers have paid $167,739.10 to the headhunting firm hired to conduct the search to date. Another invoice may be coming. Travel expenses for the three out-of-town finalists for the job were not made available.

The trustees’ latest vote is not the first time concerns have been raised over the search process. Trustees successfully extended deadlines for dark horse candidates but a motion to remove minimum job requirements, like a doctorate degree and experience at the collegiate level, failed on a 4-3 vote.

New trustee Marcell Felipe, who has defended the board’s decision to reboot the search process and dismissed complaints of a fixed search, told the Miami Herald that he agreed in a conversation with Padron on Monday not to further discuss the matter publicly. He had been the most vocal defender of the action; other trustees have had little to say publicly.

Felipe said on CBS’ “Facing South Florida” on Sunday that the rules had been set by the “old board,” but that the board now has four new members — a majority — who should be setting the rules.

For example, he thought the qualifications for the job of president were “tailor-made” for an internal candidate, presumably the sole internal candidate Lenore Rodicio, who is still in the running for the job. He added that the “new board” should be able to restart the process “with all of the facts.”

“You want me to jump in bed at the last minute? At least take me to dinner, give me some wine, and let’s see where it leads,” he said.

Former MDC vice chair Jose K. Fuentes, who was replaced as a trustee two weeks before the presidential vote, tweeted that he was dismayed that the board’s work was in vain.

“There was a good process,” he said. “It doesn’t throw out the candidate they seem to have favorited. I just don’t know how you do that within a small window when it took almost six months to [get] where you’re at.”

“They felt like they needed more time,” he said of the current board members. “I do believe the board will do what’s right in the end.”

Former trustee Juan C. Zapata, now a candidate for Miami-Dade County mayor, tweeted that the college “has just fallen victim to the political games that have plagued our community.”

“Have no doubt that the fix is in! #Shameful,” he tweeted.

“Is the timing suspect? Absolutely,” he told the Herald. “At a critical time in the college, why would you then be wanting to make all these changes?”

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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