Eye on the Everglades

As the acknowledged scientific expert on the Glades, Ron Jones brought Florida International University prestige and millions in grants, so naturally the school tried to have him arrested

He didn't decide to leave in an instant; Jones cites a frustration that grew over the years. His refusal to discuss all but a few colleagues also indicates that he was at least cognizant of some of the resentment directed at him. "I won't say anything bad about SERC," Jones says. "I mean, I love SERC, okay? And I love a lot of those people. And I won't say anything about the ones I don't love."

There is some disagreement over how much the loss of Jones's presence will cost SERC in grant money. Jones believes the center will eventually lose as much as four million dollars annually, while Santana-Bravo says, "No one can look into a crystal ball." The Army Corps of Engineers offered FIU the option of retaining a three-million-dollar grant on the condition that the school let Jones supervise some of the work, according to spokeswoman Amanda Olafson. "They declined," she says.

They also declined to talk much about the director of a prominent research institution resigning just when his prestige could have helped the university tap into the eight billion dollars committed to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Repeated calls to Mendoza's office were never returned by anyone other than Santana-Bravo. Calls to the office of FIU president Modesto "Mitch" Maidique met with the same response. Few at SERC -- employees, students, or administrative staffers -- had anything to say, possibly because they want to stay out of the wrangling over laboratory equipment, and possibly to avoid publicly choosing sides. After all, if Jones's treatment at the hands of Mendoza is any indication, the administration is not afraid to bully undesirables.

The eccentric, abrasive, hyperintelligent Ron Jones on 
FIU's decision to blackball him: "It seems like a weird 
strategy. FIU ends up with less money and equipment, 
and everyone winds up hating each other"
Jonathan Postal
The eccentric, abrasive, hyperintelligent Ron Jones on FIU's decision to blackball him: "It seems like a weird strategy. FIU ends up with less money and equipment, and everyone winds up hating each other"

Meanwhile life at Portland State University has been a pleasant surprise for Jones. "I spent my entire professional career at FIU, so I know how it works," he explains. "PSU is a comparable size and also fairly young, so I thought things would be the same. But the whole bureaucracy is so much more efficient. And the students! At FIU you go to the student lounge and it's so loud you can't even think. Here you go to a lounge and the students are studying. Studying, not dancing."

Jones will continue to work in South Florida, though not with the research center he founded. And he'll continue to influence Everglades policy as a highly respected scientist, though FIU will not share the spotlight with him. "Ron's an important guy, and he's been an important guy for years," Terry Rice says. "He's also a person who's very different from your average individual. At FIU, they just couldn't get past that."

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