Is FIU stifling freedom of expression? Sure looks that way in attempt to remove Maidique’s name from campus

In 2004, Mitch Maidique, then FIU president, announced plans to build a medical school.
In 2004, Mitch Maidique, then FIU president, announced plans to build a medical school. AP

Florida International University’s Board of Trustees should tell the committee seeking to strip Modesto “Mitch” Maidique’s name from the campus to forget the whole misbegotten effort. Wednesday’s board meeting is as a good a time as any to do it.

That way, the people entrusted with acting in the best interest of FIU and its students can get back to work: Students want the university to confront rising tuition. The entire community still needs to know who is culpable for the deadly collapse of FIU’s brand-new pedestrian bridge in March — and students trying to cross the dangerous Southwest Eighth Street still need a safe way get to and from their dorms.

Removing the former FIU president’s name from its original campus in Southwest Miami-Dade not only would be an undeserved slap to Maidique; it would also dishonor the university itself and the academic freedoms that it stands for. Neither is in FIU’s best interest.

No matter the reasons the members of the ad hoc committee eventually think up to justify the proposal, removing Maidique’s name from the campus ultimately will look like a small and vindictive act taken against an outspoken Maidique, who has been at odds with FIU’s current president, Mark Rosenberg, and his administration about the long-term direction of the university. Maidique is currently executive director of FIU’s Chapmanville Leadership Development Program.

For the record, out of the state’s 12 public universities, Florida’s Board of Governors this year ranked FIU No. 2. The rankings are based on such metrics as graduation rate, retention rate, cost to students and graduate employment. As a result, the Legislature gave FIU $560 million in performance funding for the 2018-19 academic year. And the school will get $12.5 million in additional funding, including a one-time infusion of $9.7 million for its superb ranking.

Clearly, FIU is doing something right. No matter, apparently. Last month, a committee created expressly to consider renaming the university voted 5-1 to do so, while finding some other way to honor the former president. Tuesday, the rush to strip Maidique’s name from the campus slowed down a bit. The minutes from the previous Aug. 20 meeting were incomplete or inaccurate, committee members complained — itself a suspicious turn.

According to a story by Herald reporter Colleen Wright, trustee Natasha Lowell, who first presented the proposal to rename the campus, said at Tuesday’s meeting that she wants to include the reasons why the board is pursuing a name change in her plan, saying that she was “a little too premature” to suggest a plan without knowing how much it would cost and who would pay for it.

But the committee voted to remove Maidique’s name without a roadmap? It has no idea who will pay for it? It’s disappointing to hear this from some of the very people who have a fiduciary responsibility to keep FIU flourishing academically and, especially, financially.

This misguided endeavor seems to rest on the shaky foundation of punishing Maidique for no greater crime than airing his criticism the university, some of which he expressed on the Miami Herald opinion page in 2016. No matter what side trustees fall on, they should acknowledge that Maidique was president for 23 years and set FIU on the path to so much of its current successes, including a medical school, which opened after Maidique stepped down in 2009.

The committee is trampling Maidique’s freedom of expression, plain and simple.

When the full board meets Wednesday, saner members should insist: Enough.