MDC trustees must put college first in choosing a leader, not their own, crass political aims | Editorial

Longtime MDC president Eduardo J. Padrón, who retires Friday, and remaining candidate for his job, Provost Lenore Rodicio.
Longtime MDC president Eduardo J. Padrón, who retires Friday, and remaining candidate for his job, Provost Lenore Rodicio. Miami Herald

Miami Dade College’s Board of Trustees named a new president on Thursday — an interim president.

In a room full of students, faculty, staff and community leaders, the board insisted on wasting more time and money on a process that could have worked right the first time.

Last month, a majority of trustees rejected the results of six months of recruiting by a local headhunting firm, thinning a list of names from the initial 500 candidates and flying in three of the final four candidates. And, according to the most vocal trustees, all of that still wasn’t good enough.

So the board is starting from scratch, again. Retired MDC provost Rolando Montoya will hold the fort until a new president is picked.

The result of Thursday’s meeting did nothing to allay suspicions that the newest trustees, all appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, are poised to make a political appointment, even though four candidates with solid academic qualifications, including MDC’s popular internal candidate, provost Lenore Rodicio, were interviewed by the trustees.

And the meeting did little to bolster anyone’s confidence in how, big picture, government actually works. At one point, trustee and former state lawmaker Michael Bileca said that he was having some difficulty actually having to operate so transparently while working on the public’s behalf.

There were outbursts on display from the dais, mainly between board members, Marcell Felipe and Bileca, and Chairman Bernie Navarro, who managed to hold his own.

The seven-member board has clearly fractured into those who want a do-over because they think the fix is in for the well-respected Rodicio and those who think that recently appointed trustees plan to hijack the process and have their own fix in mind, possibly naming some former legislator looking for a steady gig to the post long held by Eduardo J. Padrón, who retires Friday.

Amid the unfortunate drama to replace him, this entire community should take time to thank him for all he did to grow MDC into an internationally recognized academic powerhouse. His accomplishments on behalf of this community should be sustained, not undone.

But now, we all must be MDC’s protectors.

After muddling through accusations of censorship, efforts to curtail the advertised public hearing on the agenda and suspect motives, a handful of community leaders expressed to the board how the college’s reputation and financial standing would be damaged if the process of selecting a new college president were tainted.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez urged the board not to muddy the traditional presidential selection process, which he said is “being sidetracked and I don’t know the motive.”

Julie Grimes, head of the Miami Dade College Foundation, told the trustees that any shenanigans would hurt her team’s abilities to raise funds.

Louis Wolfson III, whose family has given the college $170 million through the years, made it clear to the board that, “A political appointee as president would hurt the college.”

Afterward, warring board members seemed to call a truce. For now.

This selection effort already has been tainted by board members whose actions seem not to have put the college first. We hope their claims to the contrary on Thursday, though, are true.