Leave Maidique name on main FIU campus and move on
Written by Michael Lewis on August 28, 2018
Florida International University’s trustees are to meet Sept. 5 on the Modesto Maidique Campus. Without shifting seats, they might end up on the University Park Campus.
In the interim, trustees may vindictively rip from the campus the name of Dr. Maidique, a title they bestowed with fanfare just nine years ago as he ended a 23-year presidency. Such a decision would be catastrophic for the university.
Removing his name would compound the error of naming the campus. It never should have been done – naming sites for living persons raises a danger of what they might do later – but removing his name would see a university revoke its word, taking back a gift while trampling on the academic freedom of a professor and former president.
The university needs to live with its first error, grimace and move on.
Forget any looming legal challenge by Dr. Maidique to stripping away a title that was a farewell gift to encourage him to step down.
A court fight could cost the university millions, but it would pale in comparison to the damage to FIU’s reputation in taking back the title because Dr. Maidique has been critical of FIU’s recent vision and management – and that is the only real cause to erase his name, not a trumped-up $100 million valuation of naming rights from some future donor when the most anyone has ever given FIU is $20 million.
Dr. Maidique’s criticisms rankle trustees and administrators. They’ve every reason to be annoyed. None of us seeks public criticism, even if much of what Dr. Maidique has said seems right.
This newspaper, like Dr. Maidique, has questioned the speed of FIU’s enrollment growth and its vision of what comes first, quality or quantity. But he is not some newsman but one of them. He built the university by adding schools of medicine and law and infrastructure and a national reputation. We are occasionally critics of FIU policies, but Dr. Maidique has the credentials to put his criticisms, appropriate or not, at center stage.
The test in the case of the campus name is not validity of ideas. Even if he were totally wrong he’d have every right as an academic to speak out. Some would say he has the duty to do so.
In the corporate world what the CEO, the president and the board say usually go unchallenged, often to the company’s detriment. But in government and universities, participants are held to higher standards and should be able to make their voices heard without penalty.
In government we call it whistle blowing; in universities we call it academic freedom.
If you can think of any university where academic freedom is inappropriate, it would probably be in a dictatorship where if you question the regime you are punished.
But if FIU punishes its former president for being a critic – even criticizing heavy-handedly in the instance of a tragic bridge collapse – it is asking for approbation from the academic world. Already the Chronicle of Higher Education, the newspaper of the university community nationally, is writing about FIU’s designs on taking back the campus name from an outspoken former president.
If trustees persist in misguided efforts to punish Dr. Maidique, the criticism will be national, and faculty and student recruitment will suffer for years.
It would be different were a crime involved. Communities here have had to take down street signs with the names of persons who later became felons – examples of why names of living persons do not belong in public places. But Dr. Maidique’s only crime was in exercising his academic freedom.
If you say he has been heavy-handed in public criticisms, we would agree. His own predecessor, the late Gregory Wolfe, sometimes disagreed with Dr. Maidique’s actions and privately said so. Dr. Wolfe was equally gentlemanly in his private criticisms of current President Mark Rosenberg.
Dr. Maidique, however, has never avoided the spotlight. That was true before the campus was named for him and has been true since. He has not changed.
If outspokenness concerned trustees, they ought to have considered it before naming a campus for him, not nine years later. His only sin that we can see is being true to himself. That’s no reason to break a promise, violate academic freedom and hold a public university up to national ridicule.
Academic freedom should be paramount. FIU is not a trade school. It’s among the nation’s 10 largest public universities in enrollment. Start muzzling the faculty and it’s lost.
Assume for the moment that the trustees trump up some new reason and remove the name next week. What will they then do with campus naming rights, land bank them until they can someday find a buyer?
What exactly would that gain over finding the buyer first and then going to Dr. Maidique and cutting a deal for him to relinquish the name? He has already said he would do it for a $200 million donor. He has also said he thought at most he’d get his name on the law school. Those statements show that he is not intractable.
In making an agreement later, with a buyer at hand, Dr. Maidique would be the hero, the man who late in his career allowed the university he built to become even greater. He and the university would jointly save face and jointly gain, because it would not be a punitive measure but a chance for everyone to do the right thing for the right reason.
But don’t back him into a corner and steal back a gift that was willingly and publicly given to him just to land bank a name for a donation that might never appear.
FIU’s provost told trustees that universities don’t name campuses for people, presumably making it proper to take the name back. But universities do in fact name campuses for people – FIU’s trustees named one for Mitch Maidique.
Unless and until Dr. Maidique willingly turns that name over to a major donor, that’s the way it ought to stay.
Meanwhile, let his criticisms continue to flow on the Modesto Maidique Campus. Argue him down if you like and if you can, but don’t try to muzzle a critic of the university – especially the critic who is still on the faculty and who was pivotal to physically and academically building FIU.