Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: FIU should have scrapped Miss Universe pageant

Miss Guyana Niketa Barker-Miss Guyana smiles with beach ball in hand as she and other Miss Universe contestants hang out poolside modeling swimsuits at Trump National Doral Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
Miss Guyana Niketa Barker-Miss Guyana smiles with beach ball in hand as she and other Miss Universe contestants hang out poolside modeling swimsuits at Trump National Doral Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. EL NUEVO HERALD

Dear FIU,

I demand parity.

If hosting the Miss Universe pageant is so image-enhancing for Florida International University, then I want to see the administrators of this prestige-thirsty educational institution fall all over themselves to host Mr. Universe, too.

I want to see some male booty in a swimsuit competition that shows the world, the judges — and dollar-swinging moguls like Donald Trump — how well-stacked candidates measure up all around.

No stocking-stuffing or surgical enhancements allowed.

Yes, why not institutionally condone ogling at shapely men on your stately, overcrowded campus — and please, by all means, do spiff up the arena for the event with funds from the athletic department’s male programs. Scrap plans for upgrades to the football stadium. And who needs a track to attract top track-and-field student talent?

All you need are the world’s lusty eyes on a line-up of masculine beauties to raise your status in the international world of education-seekers.

Pretty crass of me to objectify men, isn’t it?

That little exercise is right out of the Diversity 101 playbook.

When you don’t know — when you can’t tell if something is offensive, inappropriate, and derogatory to one group — trade places. The Donald’s pageant doesn’t look as glamorous and FIU-worthy anymore, does it?

Then why was it acceptable for a state research university that aspires to serious academic standing to bring to its campus an event that objectifies women — and justifies doing so by providing scholarships and career opportunities as payment for playing the role of pleasing beauty?

You can dress up the Miss Universe pageant in diamonds, but it’s still a contest in which sex appeal plays the starring role. It’s not an academic brain bowl.

When faculty members objected back in October to FIU’s staging the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, the university’s administration should’ve entirely scrapped the idea.

Like so many of her colleagues, Sneh Gulati, a professor in the department of mathematics and statistics, where 40 percent of majors are female, wanted to know: “It’s an event that objectifies women — why have it at the university?”

But instead of taking the faculty seriously, President Mark Rosenberg tried to quiet the uproar by making token gestures to separate the inseparable.

He said the university logo would disappear from pageant marketing and from what would be seen of the venue on television by the worldwide audience. He insisted that FIU was not “sponsoring” nor “hosting,” but simply renting out space.

Never mind that the Donald is not paying a penny in rent — just making a $75,000 scholarship donation that a state match would raise to $150,000. The administration waived the $44,000 leasing fee.

Never mind that Trump demanded fixes to the roof of the arena to accommodate television cameras to the tune of $400,000 that the university is now contractually forced to make.

“The dispiriting thing now is that we were told it would not cost the university anything — and now it’s going to cost half a million, and we had to learn about it in the Miami Herald,” Gulati told me.

It gets worse.

When The Herald’s Michael Vasquez started requesting public documents about the Miss Universe deal, the administration redacted documents — in violation of the state’s Sunshine laws — that show the event will cost the cash-strapped university a whopping $544,073. The documents, which FIU finally released in unredacted form three weeks later, pointed to the incompetent negotiations between Athletic Director Pete Garcia with Trump’s people, in which warnings of legal shortcomings by the university’s counsel (a woman, I may add) were ignored and repairs were miscalculated to cost $70,000. To add the proverbial insult to injury, Garcia wanted to pay for the expense from the women’s athletic program funds.

Here’s another gem: FIU tried to get away with redacting documents using the excuse that they don’t want to give terrorists information about the arena.

At a time when the rights of women are under attack around the world — and in this country by a vocal new generation of troglodytes — we expect better judgment from our institutions of learning.

At a time when universities should be setting an example for young people — standing up for a free press and protecting the rights of women on campus — there’s only one thing to say.

Shame on you, FIU administrators.

When the pageant airs on Sunday, you’ll be projecting an image all right, but it won’t be one of excellence.

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