July 24, 2019 / By Samantha J. Gross
The college with the country’s largest undergraduate class is not getting a new president. Yet.
After three days of presentations, interviews and deliberation, hundreds of inquiries and months of screening by a search committee, Miami Dade College’s Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to scrap the process and start again from scratch in its search to replace outgoing President Eduardo Padrón, who stepped down this year after leading the college for nearly a quarter century.
All trustees but Bernie Navarro, chair of the 17-member search committee and the college’s Board of Trustees, voted to start from scratch by closing the search process. They will figure out what to do and vote on an interim president when they meet in the next two weeks or so.
Navarro wore cuff links made from coins his grandfather brought from Cuba when he came to America — cuff links he said he wears for every important meeting. At the beginning of the day, he said “this is one of the most important decisions that I will make.”
“This is the beacon of hope of our community,” he added.
After the meeting, he said he was “obviously disappointed.”
“It’s been a long process,” he said. “We convened a 17-member committee that had a Fortune 500 CEO, the president of the chamber, the president of the United Way, the president of the Miami Foundation, internal stakeholders.”
Vice president and provost Lenore Rodicio, the sole internal candidate and the clear favorite of the board, will remain in the running.
She said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that she was “of course, disappointed.”
“This has been an arduous process for myself and my family,” she said. “At this point, I am left with no choice but to await the board’s final decision and pray that whatever decision that is, it’s in the best interest of our students.”
Navarro made a comment that he hopes she isn’t poached by another college or university in the meantime.
The other three candidates — Reagan Romali, superintendent-president at Long Beach Community College District in California; Divina Grossman, president and chief academic officer of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences; and Paul Broadie, president of Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College in Connecticut — won’t continue on in the process.
Rodicio started her career at the college in 2002 as an adjunct chemistry professor and has since held positions as department chair and dean of academic affairs. She has held her current position as vice president and provost since 2016.
“I truly have a deep care and commitment to the students that we serve,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”
At the end of the meeting Mark Richard, labor attorney and former faculty union president, stood up to address the board.
“The soul of this college is being ripped apart today. We don’t believe in this process any longer,” he said. “This is the saddest day of my 40 years as a faculty member at this college.”
Faculty and other members of the community jeered, booed and shouted “shame on you” after the vote. After the meeting, Richard told the Herald that the trustees disrespected the process by failing to vote.
“When a pilot lands a plane, she has a duty to deliver what was promised. When a surgeon finishes up at Jackson, they have a promise. When a reporter has a story, they have a certain ethical commitment,” he said. “They changed the process after months of work and completely gutted the stakeholders in this process. It’s absolutely unacceptable … Why would anyone do such a reckless thing?”
Javier Soto, Miami Foundation CEO and search committee member, said he was “dismayed” when he heard about the board’s decision.
“I think it’s insulting to all those involved and all the community people who participated in the search committee process and spent a significant amount of time and energy,” he said. “It was a very thoughtful, very comprehensive process. Everybody was incredibly committed on the committee to ensure the best possible outcome for his institution. I can’t imagine a more thorough search.”
He added that if he were asked to be part of the process again, he would say “absolutely no.”
“I am growing increasingly angry by the moment,” Soto said. “I would not serve again in this process, and I will not help to legitimize this farce.”
The process has not been a seamless one. New members of the Board of Trustees unsuccessfully pushed to drastically lower the qualifications bar for applicants, fueling speculation by the college’s faculty union that the search was being rigged to favor a specific candidate.
Four of the trustees hoped to strike prerequisites set in place by the prior board to ensure the next college president will hold at least a terminal degree — the highest degree in their field — and have a minimum six years of experience in education administration.
The board ultimately kept the status quo.
The trustees will meet again in two weeks to hash out details on the search committee and the plan for an interim president, but much still remains unclear.
Padrón, who will finish up his term as president in six weeks, said he’s been watching the interviews from his office. He’s been “ready for this” for a long time, he said.
“What’s important to me is that the trustees select the best person. I have my favorite, but that’s my private feeling. I am just looking forward to that decision so we can move forward,” he said.