Andrew Jackson didn’t invent the spoils system, but he made it the cornerstone of his term as President. It didn’t matter how competent you were, if you were a Jackson loyalist, a public servant was fired, and you were handed his job. For almost 50 years, the election of a new President saw the wholesale sacking of government employees and their replacement with party hacks.
The passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 reformed civil service, replacing spoils system with a nonpartisan merit scheme. (This isn’t a commentary on what is happening in Washington today.)
Miami-Dade College is in the midst of trying to find a replacement for retiring President Eduardo Padrón and how they are doing it would make Andrew Jackson proud.
The process started off well enough and seemed open and transparent. In February of this year Padrón announced his retirement.
Three criteria for applicants were adopted: a Ph.D. from a regionally accredited university; a minimum of ten years of senior level management experience. six of which must be in academic administration; and demonstrated leadership and innovative accomplishments in the area of academic and student service programs and/or administrative, financial, and operational areas.
Diversified Search, a nationally recognized executive recruitment firm was retained to ferret out the best among college administrators and would be paid $167,000 for its work. Community leaders were consulted. Ads were published in the Chronicle of Higher Education inviting applicants to submit their names and qualifications.
The 17-member Search Committee ultimately identified four candidates, including Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio. The choice would seem simple enough, right? But this is Florida where, evidently, we can’t count ballots or make selections based on merit.
While the Search Committee was doing its job of winnowing candidates, the seven-member Board of Trustees was changing. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis replaced enough members of the Board to tip the balance. At its meeting in July, the Board voted to reject all applicants except Rodicio and begin the process all over again.
Why? The given reason what that they weren’t satisfied with the candidates because they didn’t like the selection criteria. Restricting the field to educators with doctorates who have management experience didn’t allow the folks that DeSantis wanted to help to rise to the top.
Florida has a long history of using university presidencies as a patronage reward for retiring politicians. Lt. Governor Frank Brogan was given the Presidency of Florida Atlantic University as a plum for his tenure under Governor Jeb Bush. John Thrasher, Republican former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, was appointed and anointed as the President of Florida State University.
The Search Committee took the wrong step when it failed to include a handful of politicians in its Final Four. Tallahassee insiders are pulling for the appointment of Lt. Governor Jeanette Núñez, former State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, or State Senator Manny Diaz, Jr.
Núñez received her bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations in 1994 and her Master’s degree in public administration in 1998. She worked for State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla as his legislative aide and then entered the health care industry, working as the Vice-President of Government Affairs at Jackson Health System. She served in the Florida House from 2010 to 2018.
Jose Felix Diaz is a Miami lawyer who served in the Florida House from 2010 to 2017, representing parts of Miami-Dade County. He received a degree in political science and English from the University of Miami in 2002. He then received his J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2005 and moved back to Florida. Strangely enough, he was a losing contest on Season 5 of “The Apprentice” and is the only potential candidate who Donald Trump has told was “fired”. He resigned from the House in 2017 to run for a special election to the Florida Senate, but was beaten by Annette Taddeo.
Manny Diaz was just elected to the Florida Senate after an undistinguished tenure in the Florida House. He chairs the Senate Education Committee. Diaz attended St. Thomas University, where he graduated with a degree in human resources in 1994 and then got a Master’s in education from Southeastern University in 1998. He works as chief operating officer of the private non-profit Doral College, which is only accredited as an on-line school. He’s most known for attempting to shovel as many tax dollars as he can out of the state education budget and into private charter schools.
Neither Núñez nor either of the Diazes meet the stated objective requirements. None has a Ph.D. from an accredited university and would only be qualified under the other criteria if you hold their resumes up to the light and squint hard.
Republicans in Tallahassee were tired of the independence that Eduardo Padrón and his predecessor, Robert H. McCabe, showed in demanding more money for program improvements and for their refusal to allow the hiring of political hacks as faculty and administrators. They want one of their own to control the largest educational institution in Florida and one of its most important economic engines.
It appears the fix is in. MDC Board of Trustees Member Marcell Felipe, one of DeSantos’ four new appointees. didn’t like the restrictive criteria saying recently on CBS 4’s “Facing South Florida” that the new Board should be able to restart the process with “all of the facts”.
Felipe colorfully added, “You want me to jump in bed at the last minute? At least take me to dinner, give me some wine, and let’s see where it leads.”
Felipe and the other DeSantis appointees have made it abundantly clear that the students and faculty of MDC, as well as all of South Florida, are ones who will be screwed.
When you meet again on August 29th, do the right thing, Miami-Dade Board of Trustees. Appoint Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio as the new MDC President to continue the legacies of Padrón and McCabe.