FIU, too! All right?

Why Mitch Maidique and Armando Codina hate Amendment 11

Almost forgotten in the post-November 5th victory celebration by Jeb Bush and the Republican Party was one stinging election day defeat for the GOP: the passage of Amendment 11, which could throw a monkey wrench into the governor's plan to turn universities into corporate academies run by politically connected boards of trustees. Under the constitutional change crafted by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, placed on the ballot via voter petition, a Tallahassee-based Board of Governors will be created to oversee and even override the boards of trustees.

Of course, Bush still gets to name fourteen of the seventeen members of the Board of Governors, and there is little doubt that his appointees will look a lot like a majority of the 132 trustees he named to the eleven university boards just sixteen months ago. Think white, male, and Republican.

Still, creating another level of bureaucracy, attended by more than a little uncertainty about how the Graham-designed system will work, rankles Bush and other GOP leaders. And that includes Florida International University president Modesto "Mitch" Maidique.

President Modesto Maidique (top), the architect of FIU's success, before the election; Armando Codina (above), former Bush business partner
President Modesto Maidique (top), the architect of FIU's success, before the election; Armando Codina (above), former Bush business partner

"Life for me, and other university officials, will become tougher," the dapper president told about 120 members of the university faculty and staff who gathered on the University Park campus November 13 for a town hall meeting in a ballroom in the Graham Center -- named after the senator's businessman father, Ernest. Barely able to contain his bitterness over passage of the constitutional amendment, Maidique went on to add that what he called "this little governance issue" means "you may see less of me. It just adds another level of difficulty [to my job]." (Although Bush will still get to appoint the governors, the old plan of setting Republican agendas from each campus via the trustees will be exponentially more difficult.)

Then, in an acknowledgement that most in the audience -- including the members of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF), the professors' union -- ignored his pre-election pleadings and backed the amendment, Maidique warned that uncertainty over the new system put already-underfunded FIU at greater financial risk.

"And that's a risk," he said, sternly fixing his listeners from the podium, "that you who voted in favor of Amendment 11 imposed on the university!"

If anyone in the audience took offense at what English professor and union leader Joan Baker later called "a public scolding" from Maidique, they kept quiet. But silence from a group of men and women accustomed to professing loudly on all and sundry may merely reflect the cautious mood on campus in the vote's aftermath. The faculty's union-negotiated contract expires in January, and not even Maidique has a clear notion of how the new governance structure will shake out.

What is clear is that former Bush business partner Armando Codina, elected chairman of the thirteen-member board of trustees after the GOP-controlled legislature abolished the Board of Regents eighteen months ago, is gone. "I won't be involved in something they have taken the guts out of," Codina cried. If anything, he seems even more bitter than Maidique over the 60 percent to 40 percent plurality vote in favor of the amendment crafted by Graham. Graham, a former Florida governor, strongly opposed Bush's decision to do away with the Board of Regents, which ran the state university system for 36 years. He saw the creation of the Board of Governors as a compromise between the old system and the one Bush concocted.

The Board of Governors is to be named by January 7. In addition to the fourteen Bush appointments, the other three members will include the president of the Florida Student Association, the chair of the Faculty Senate Advisory Council and the state Commissioner of Education.

Maidique said he suggested to Bush -- only partially in jest -- that if the Board of Governors could be located in Miami, Codina might be enticed to serve. No way, says the powerful Miami developer, who hates traveling to Tallahassee. "This was a political ploy," Codina said of Graham's amendment.

In his sixteen years at FIU's helm, Maidique has helped take the school from a little-known commuter college on the edge of the Everglades to a major state university. Now with 32,000 enrolled students, FIU under Maidique's aggressive leadership has gained admission into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, built a reputation for its Latin American studies program, and this fall opened a college of law and fielded its first intercollegiate football team.

In the process, the Cuban-born Maidique has become a powerful player in the Florida corridors where politics and education intersect. A former business management professor at Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, he was an education advisor to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential transition. He serves on the boards of two Fortune 500 firms: Carnival Corp., the cruise line company, and National Semiconductor Corp., maker of computer chips. And thanks to an $83,000 raise approved by the Codina-led trustees, the 62-year-old Maidique now pulls down a salary -- $285,000 -- befitting a corporate titan.

Thirty years after its founding, however, FIU still ranks last among Florida's universities in per-capita funding for undergraduate students, the result of having much less political clout than the system's big dogs, Florida State University in Tallahassee and the University of Florida in Gainesville. Last year FIU had to ride out a $12 million budget cut.

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