Building Block

Four years ago Guillermo Rodriguez was a Cuban-American kid with dreams of becoming an architect, but not a whole lot of money. He'd just earned a two-year degree in architecture from Miami-Dade Community College and was trying to decide where to go next. Private schools such as the University of Miami were too expensive. With its respected four-year undergraduate School of Design, Florida International University looked like his best option. Rodriguez had heard the school was seeking to add a master's degree that would render its two-decade-old program eligible for accreditation and allow graduating students to take a state-required licensing exam. That fall he enrolled at FIU as a construction-management major, intending to pursue architecture when the program expanded.

But by the spring of 1993, the program's future remained unclear. "I heard a lot of rumors and made a lot of calls, but no one could give me a straight answer," recalls Rodriguez, now 26 years old. "Not even the faculty knew what was up."

Reluctant to spend four years studying with no hope of earning a professional license, Rodriguez set out to find a few answers himself. While poring over documents in FIU's library, he came across a 1974 study released by the Board of Regents -- the body that governs all ten universities in the state system and gives final approval to all new programs -- recommending that a master's program in architecture be located in southern Florida. A 1983 report, written by an independent consultant for the Board of Regents, suggested that FIU's undergraduate program was an ideal candidate for expansion. Rodriguez would later learn of a 1994 review commissioned by the regents, which again lauded FIU as the most logical choice for an accredited program.

The problem, Rodriguez discovered, was that FIU administrators didn't seem to be interested in pushing for the architecture program to be expanded. In 1993, in fact, university president Modesto "Mitch" Maidique had removed the master's in architecture from the long-range plan FIU submitted that year to the Board of Regents.

Unbeknownst to FIU's 212 architecture students and half-dozen professors, the president had also discussed his plans with Anthony Catanese, his counterpart at the Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University. Maidique, in fact, had agreed not to object if FAU sought approval to establish its own professional program, which would be placed at the school's Fort Lauderdale site. In exchange, Catanese -- himself an architect -- agreed to support Maidique's bid for a law school.

The regents ruled out the possibility of approving a law school at FIU in the near future after a much-publicized 1993 debate. But Maidique says he has no plans to break his pledge to Catanese. "The issue isn't some deal I made with Tony, but the priorities of this institution," Maidique insists. "I never made him any promise and I could change my mind today. But I don't plan to." Maidique says he is confident FIU will eventually establish a professional program of its own, regardless of FAU's plans. "When the next [master plan] opportunity rolls around, in 1998, we will ask for architecture to be made a professional program," he asserts.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to consider granting preliminary approval to FAU's program when it convenes tomorrow, July 21.

And if the Fort Lauderdale site is given the go-ahead, FIU's architecture students and faculty fear that despite Maidique's optimism, they will have missed their chance. The consultants who wrote the most recent report for the regents stated that it would be foolish to establish competing programs at two nearby schools. They specifically noted that if a professional program were to be launched at FAU, FIU's program should be absorbed by FAU.

"[Maidique] is basically condemning our program to death," Rodriguez says.
As the Board of Regents meeting draws closer, Rodriguez and his fellow students have begun frantically lobbying in the hopes the FIU president will change his mind and move forward with plans for a master's program now. They conducted a survey of local architecture students, circulated petitions, staged rallies, and personally met with Maidique. They even persuaded Metro Commissioner Alex Penelas to sponsor a resolution urging the Board of Regents to establish an accredited architecture program at FIU. (Commissioners unanimously passed the resolution last Tuesday.)

Teachers, too, have taken action. In April the faculty of the School of Design sent Maidique and university provost James Mau a letter underscoring their concerns. "FAU has embarked upon an aggressive attempt to recruit our students in support of its proposed architecture program," they wrote, going on to blast Maidique for fostering the perception that "FIU is not willing or not interested in the development of a professional master's program."

"Obviously we are worried and disappointed," declares Iraj Majzub, acting head of the School of Design. Majzub, who launched FIU's architecture program in the Seventies, says that until recently his main source of information about the administration's position has been rumors.

"We were remiss in not pulling the faculty and students together and saying, 'Here's where we're going with this,'" Maidique concedes. "The communication could have been a lot better."

Maidique isn't the only president who has caught flak about the matter. In June the Palm Beach Post revealed that two studies backing Anthony Catanese's plan for an architecture program had been penned by Catanese's personal friends. The Post article, written by Don Horine, reported that Catanese had told the authors of both studies not to bother speaking with anyone from FIU. Catanese denied this claim to Horine. (The FAU president did not return calls requesting comment for this story.)

Horine's article also quotes R.E. LeMon, the head of program reviews for the Board of Regents, as saying, "In my mind FIU was better positioned [than FAU] because they have the guts program that could become professional. The problem is that neither the president nor provost would get onto that, make it a priority." (LeMon also failed to return phone calls this past week.)

Provost Mau argues that one reason FIU's top officials haven't made architecture a priority recently is that previous requests to establish a master's program have been rebuffed. "We felt we would be firing a blank, in essence," Mau says.

Perla Hantman, a local member of the Board of Regents, disagrees. "Based on the study we commissioned, FIU would be the number-one site we would approve, if any site is approved," she says. "I can't speak for my fellow regents, but with the budget as tight as it is, the emphasis would always be geared towards building on a program that already exists. At the same time, we can only go by what each school requests.


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