As the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees went into a meeting last week, many expected the board to vote on a new president for the college. Instead the board voted to scrap three potential candidates and open a new search on its own terms.
After a search committee of community stakeholders came together last year to find a new leader for the large public college, many community members are left feeling jilted as the board rejected three of the chosen and publicly announced candidates, all from higher ed leadership positions at various institutions. The board did not reject Lenore Rodicio, the college’s vice president and provost.
“The four candidates identified by the committee were good choices and were qualified,” said Elizabeth Ramsay, president of the Miami Dade Faculty Union. “I don’t know how it’s possible for them to keep one and dismiss the others. MDC is really up in arms. It really jeopardizes not just the community’s faith in the institution but in all public institutions, and of course it's really an egg on the face of our entire community.”
Ramsay said the process has been further complicated by the fact that Republican governor Ron DeSantis, elected in 2018, has been replacing appointees of former governor Rick Scott, also a Republican, on boards across the state -- including the Miami Dade Board of Trustees, where multiple members of the board have been replaced by DeSantis appointees.
The new search is to find a replacement for the nationally recognized Eduardo J. Padrón, who has served as the college's president since 1995 and earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Padrón announced last February his intention to retire as president by August.
One DeSantis appointee, Marcell Felipe, defended the decision to reopen the search in an interview on a local news station, saying that new appointees to the board wanted to conduct a new search before approving a candidate.
“You have a brand-new board that’s making that decision,” Felipe said. “It’s my name that’s going on that decision. We haven’t even been told what the mission and the vision is for the next five years -- do we want to be a high-tech university? Do we want to be a vocational leader? I need to know so I can know what to look for in a president.”
The board will apparently continue the search without the input from the agreed-upon search committee. It plans to meet to select an interim president soon, with the fall semester approaching fast. Ramsay called the choice to move forward without the committee and its faculty representatives “disingenuous and frankly unbelievable.”
“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that in cases like this where the search process is rebooted, the quality of applicants goes down,” Ramsay said. “People of integrity are less likely to apply to a position when there’s a shroud of dishonesty surrounding it.”
Miami Dade spokesperson Juan Mendieta gave little comment on the situation.
“This is a decision of the Board of Trustees,” Mendieta said. “It is not the place for the institution or staff to comment. The board are the policy makers.”
The search was conducted over several months, and the employment of an executive search firm cost the college more than $150,000. Despite criticisms, Felipe denied reopening the search was in any way related to the governor’s office, stating he hasn’t spoken to anyone connected to that office regarding the search. Felipe said the board with its new members need a different process before they can decide.
“If you want me to jump into bed at the last minute, at least take me to dinner and give me some wine and see where it leads,” Felipe said of the search process.
Ramsay said that the Faculty Union would accept only candidates chosen from the original pool, of which Rodicio is the only candidate remaining, and that the faculty are considering what steps to take next.
“[Rodicio] was one of four candidates identified by the search committee, and we ask only the trustees select from the four finalists,” Ramsay said. “We had full confidence in the work of that committee. The faculty of Miami Dade College are going to stand up for the institution and its students -- we’ll always do that.”