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

FIU, too! All right?

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.

"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.

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."

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