By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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But with Bush in the governor's mansion, Codina leading the trustees, and a top-down corporate structure in place, Maidique -- called a "CEO" under the governor's reorganization -- saw FIU poised to grab a fuller share of education monies. And he campaigned hard against Amendment 11, saying it would "bring back a governance system that blocked the development of Florida International University for three decades."
Alas, the future is now uncertain. But Maidique says he will continue to tell his Republican brethren that when it comes to education, "taxes" is not a dirty word. "The people of the state want to invest in education," he said last week. "You have to raise taxes. And I will continue to give that message to the governor."
While Maidique may be disappointed in the vote, many FIU faculty are relieved, seeing the creation of a Board of Governors as a buffer against what some thought was the Republicanization of FIU. Five months ago, low-profile Metropolitan Center director Jim Rivers, a research sociologist, was ousted and replaced by controversial political science professor Dario Moreno, an outspoken consultant, pollster, and media star who makes no secret of his GOP leanings. Moreno's mission is to turn the research organization, located in downtown Miami, into an urban think tank active in local politics, especially as an arm of the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation. Replacing departing delegation chair Sen. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat bound for the U.S. Congress, is state Rep. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican and former Moreno student.
"If this is a movement to politicize FIU, and make the Metropolitan Center do that kind of work, it would be a great concern to the faculty," said sociology professor Betty Morrow, a former union president. Added history professor Howard Rock, chair of FIU's faculty senate: "I hope the institution is not identified as Republican or Democrat. That would be very bad. The faculty would oppose that."
Not to worry, says College of Health and Urban Affairs dean Ron Berkman. "I made it very clear that the role of the Metropolitan Center is neutrality in research," cooed the dean, who, like a majority of FIU's faculty, is a Democrat. "There are always people who are going to come in and want research to come out a certain way. But that is not going to happen here."
Also creating a buzz among the faculty is the future direction of FIU's respected Cuban Research Institute, where founding director Lisandro Perez is being eased out after twelve years at the helm. "It would not be truthful to say there is nothing going on," said Perez, a political liberal who has been urged to concentrate on immigration studies and avoid controversial programming until he begins a sabbatical next fall. "I don't know if there is an agenda. But [my leaving] would be consistent for an administration that would like to be more [in tune] with the political culture of the community."
And of course, when politics surface, academic freedom becomes a concern. Coincidentally Maidique began his remarks at the University Park town hall meeting last week with a reference to academic freedom; he recounted the busy morning he spent fielding protests from citizens, chiefly Cuban Americans, objecting to the appearance later that day on the Biscayne Bay campus of a Cuban revolutionary on a U.S. book tour.
Despite "hundreds of calls, insulting me, my forebearers, my mother," and two threats to withdraw their children from the university, said Maidique, he supported the right of Victor Dreke Cruz to speak. And, to the chants of protesters, Dreke did speak.
Given the recent debate over Amendment 11, union president Joan Baker found those remarks ironic. "On the one hand, Mitch defends academic freedom in the sense that most of us appreciate it," she said. "But that didn't seem to apply to the Graham Amendment, when he clearly made his displeasure known." In one exchange prior to the election, Baker said Maidique questioned her loyalty to the university "in a way that sounded like the old 'America, love it or leave it' days.
"I am passionately loyal to the university," said Baker, "and I personally took great offense."
Maidique admits that the debate over the amendment was heated. But he denies any lingering hostility. "A university," he said, "is about disagreement."