College trustees shouldn’t cheat on their biggest test ever
Opinion leaders fearful for the future of Miami Dade College have just two weeks to weigh in with college trustees and the governor who appointed them to avert a train wreck in the choice of the college’s next president.
Make no mistake: that choice, and the process by which it is made, can continue the college on a nationally acclaimed path of greatness or else backwater an institution that has been the fast lane to success for hundreds of thousands of economically challenged Miamians who otherwise would not have attained either higher education or their financial and community achievements. If that happens, we will be much the poorer for it.
Miami has watched in shock in recent weeks as a carefully executed search to replace Eduardo Padrón and become the college’s fourth president was roadblocked after the final four candidates were interviewed. New members of the college’s board decided to start over, with new criteria, after a respected 17-member team had painstakingly shepherded the process for months up to what should have been selection day.
Now college trustees are to meet again Aug. 29. What members plan that day is a mystery. What we do know is that they have dismissed three of the four candidates from the formal selection process, leaving only the internal candidate, who has been number two to Dr. Padrón and has every qualification to be president of the college except one – she is not a former elected official who needs a job.
That final criterion is what the board seems ready to in effect insert. Members should be dissuaded from doing so, because of what it will do to the integrity of the process that was long spelled out and drew almost 500 inquiries, what it will do to the college internally and the community externally, what it is likely mean to the educations of 165,000 students a year – that’s right, 165,000 – and lastly because of what it will mean to the reputation of the college’s board of trustees and its seven individual members.
Would you want to be one of seven people who become known for putting politics over community, educators, students and fairness? That’s what their friends, their neighbors and their community should be asking the trustees – and the governor – in the next 14 days.
If Jackson Memorial Hospital, or Baptist, or UHealth – all also pillars of our community – had to replace the doctor who oversees brain surgery, they might turn to the best in a great hospital elsewhere, or the number-two person already on staff, or even a top surgeon in a related field. They wouldn’t dream of looking for a former legislator, however well connected. They’d want someone acclaimed in medicine, not politics.
That’s logical. Brain surgery is delicate and specialized. Lives hang in the balance.
But a college presidency is similar. It’s delicate and specialized, and in the case of Miami Dade College 165,000 student brains and their future lives also hang in the balance.
Think of our premier educator of those Miamians who most need a good start being a term-limited politician and not a respected educational leader. Frightening for the community, isn’t it.
This is far from the first time that political leaders have tried to take care of their own at the expense of a major Miami institution. At our airport, the community’s major economic engine where 30,000-plus people earn their livelihoods, a past county mayor tried to install as director his neighbor, who lacked experience in either running a big organization or in aviation. That plane crash was averted after a community outcry. We need such an outcry now.
Trustees have three choices when they meet Aug. 29.
First, they could start the search process over, with new criteria tailored to fit the candidate they want to select. The foremost of those changes would be to drop the earlier mandate for extensive educational leadership and the requirement of attaining the highest degrees in their field. Such changes alarm faculty, some of whom have already gone to court to derail the trustees’ plans and return to the original process.
The second possibility would be for trustees to drop any pretense of acting in public as the law requires by simply choosing their own favorite, with no new search at all.
The third choice would be to apologize to the selection team and the community for muddying the waters, and then choose the only remaining candidate from the first search, Lenore Rodicio, the college’s top academic officer now and the number two to Dr. Padrón, whom search committee members found totally qualified.
The first choice – changing criteria after many months of searching by a highly qualified firm under the direction of 17 community stalwarts – clearly wouldn’t keep faith with anyone and would destroy the integrity of the search process.
That’s not to say that the job description originally had to require either a doctoral degree or prior academic leadership. Columbia University got neither when it selected General Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in 1947. He moved forward with an important administrative restructuring, improved finances and raised the institution’s profile with a world figure at the helm.
But as great a general as Ike was, his lack of academic administrative background diminished his leadership status and damaged his credibility with faculty. Further, we doubt any candidate that trustees have in mind rises to anywhere near Ike’s level.
The second possibility of choosing on the spot a candidate on whom trustees have privately agreed would doubtless be subject to legal proceedings even while the present faculty suit works its way through court. We can’t image trustees so heavy-handed as to take this path of collusion.
As for the third choice, selecting Dr. Rodicio would be honorable and smart. It would keep faith with all involved and would wipe the mud off the faces of trustees and the governor. Seven trustees could quickly raise their own standings while doing the right thing. We hope, again, that their friends will reinforce the value to them as well as the community of doing the right thing. (As an aside, we don’t know Dr. Rodicio personally, but we value the search process and the good judgment of those involved.)
Choosing a candidate who has already been vetted in the proper process would leave the trustees not on an ideological slide to mediocrity but on the high road to enhancing a great academic institution that has been the springboard to greatness for so many.
As for ideology, which rankles some trustees, there is no Republican or Democratic way to teach French or chemistry or nursing. How the faculty and students privately feel politically is absolutely no business of the trustees.
It’s true that in the Soviet Union and communist Cuba faculty had to toe the party line, but we can’t justify prying into academic minds to have them line up with the governor’s party, and we can’t imagine Gov. Ron DeSantis going along with a political frame-up at Miami Dade College. We hope he’ll call to tell trustees just that.
One of the principles that every trustee regardless of political affiliation should uphold is that there be no cheating on tests at Miami Dade College.
The selection of a president is the ultimate test of the trustees themselves. Changing the rules afterwards or privately agreeing on anything involving the selection is cheating. Trustees who don’t play by the rules shouldn’t be on the governor’s educational team – or play any public role. Their best friends should remind them of this.
Openly selecting a candidate chosen by the original search team would prove that political machinations stop outside the classroom door at Miami Dade College. They must.