Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to step in and be the adult in the room before Miami Dade College’s Board of Trustees meets on Thursday to take another stab at the process of choosing a new president for the institution.
His board appointees have needlessly turned this selection into the most controversial presidential search in the college’s history. Unless DeSantis actually wants bad things to happen: wants this jewel of a college to be tarnished; wants the president’s office to be a bauble rewarded to an undeserving political hack; wants his legacy damaged by taking down prestigious asset, unique to the state. Otherwise, he must make clear to this board, before Thursday, that its shenanigans are totally unacceptable.
Last month, a majority of the board upended a months-long search for a new president to replace long-time respected leader Eduardo J. Padrón, whose last day on the job is Friday.
Instead of approving one of the four candidates vetted by a search committee of community leaders committed to sustaining MDC’s storied record of academic excellence, the board voted 6-1 to scuttle the whole thing and start all over again. It was a stunning dereliction of duty.
As a result, the faculty union is suing the board, accusing the college of violating its own constitution and demanding the board complete the “established presidential search process;” a petition drive is also under way to uphold the original process. Members of the search committee are livid, and they have every right to be. The trustees’ decision basically told them that they wasted their time. Speaking of waste, the headhunting firm hired to find candidates charged MDC $168,000 and has resigned.
Political leaders in the community are also jumping in, including the mayors of Miami-Dade, Miami Beach and Coral Gables, writing letters to the editor asking for a quick resolution to the drama.
One outspoken trustee, Marcell Felipe, has defended the trustees’ decision, posting professional-looking videos on his Facebook page explaining why he’s unhappy: He thinks the fix was in for an internal candidate, Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio. Though she is the only original candidate still in the running, Felipe obviously does not want her to be the next president of MDC.
But we are appalled at the campaign of character assassination that Felipe has carried out against Rodicio in the media. He revived a tired trope on Spanish-language media, insinuating that Rodicio, in overseeing the Confucius Institute at MDC, is therefore a communist. Felipe insults himself as much as he insults Rodicio. For the record, Rodicio is the daughter of Cuban exiles and a Republican. The Confucius Institute is one of MDC’s many partnerships that gives students a chance to languages abroad.
Felipe has allies on the board. At the very least, DeSantis should tell his appointee to stop this unprofessional behavior immediately.
Felipe and the Editorial Board agree on one thing: We, too, think the fix is in. Unfortunately, trustees’ previous desire to dilute the stringent requirements to be MDC president looked suspiciously like an attempt to install a political crony, rather than someone experienced in higher education and administration. Last month, they sought to loosen the requirements for new candidates — no doctorate needed and no experience in higher academia. Perfect for some term-limited, ideology-bound state legislator looking for a landing pad.
But it would be potentially damaging to a beloved institution that for 60 years has given — irrespective of politics — native Miamians, new Miamians, the out-of-work, the just-laid-off, high-school grads an academic foundation from which to launch the rest of their lives. Along the way, MDC’s open-minded, open-hearted, but rigorous approach to education has brought it national respect — thanks to Padrón and the presidents who preceded him.
The governor, who appointed most of the board, needs to make clear that he disapproves of the tactics on display. They are costing the institution more than money.
The college’s prestige and reputation also are at risk.
MDC trustees already have a stellar candidate in Rodicio. As MDC’s executive vice president and provost, she has shown both academic and administrative muscle. There is no need for trustees to search any further.
At the very least, DeSantis should insist that this selection process not be further hijacked. After all, the most troublesome are the trustees he appointed. Right now, they are a very poor reflection on him.