Coronavirus’ ‘chilling effect’ extends Miami Dade College’s search for new president

Citing the “chilling effect” brought on by the novel coronavirus, Miami Dade College will extend its presidential search into the fall, further prolonging an already drawn-out process to find a successor to longtime president Eduardo J. Padron.

Also on Thursday, the college followed all Florida public universities by postponing its graduation ceremonies. Remote work will be extended through the spring term. Campuses will distribute laptops to faculty who need them on Friday. Remote learning will begin March 30.

The Board of Trustees held its meeting Tuesday morning with all trustees phoning into the meeting. The college’s administrative staff, including interim president Rolando Montoya and executive vice provost Lenore Rodicio, a finalist in the presidential search, attended the meeting at the Wolfson campus in person but distanced themselves from each other.

The college has slowly taken steps in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Its medical campus was shut down after a visitor tested positive for COVID-19. But while classes were canceled for students, the college’s faculty was furious that employees were still expected to show up for work instead of working from home. The college reversed course Monday.

“We have always approached health and safety issues with an attitude of collaboration with [Miami Dade College] but we can’t get behind last night’s decision to require non-essential employees to report in person,” said the Twitter account for the United Faculty of Miami Dade College. “It was wrong.”

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Montoya estimated 80% of the college’s personnel are working off-campus. He said the college is restricting meetings to 10 people or fewer. Custodians are cleaning facilities and security guards are protecting practically empty campuses.

“In difficult times, everything is operating relatively normally,” he said. “It is amazing how well we are functioning with a skeleton crew.”

Nicole Washington, the trustee tasked with leading the reincarnated presidential search, said the college received an uptick in applications before the deadline, bringing the total number to 20. The Miami Herald and its news partner WLRN reported on the college’s 14 applications received earlier this month.

“As we know in Florida, several higher-caliber candidates applied in the final 48-hour stretch” to limit their exposure, she said.

Washington also said the college’s contracted search firm, AGB Search, told her that other institutions have extended or suspended their executive searches because of precautions taken to flatten the curve of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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“Given this timeline and uncertainty, they’ve recommended that we extend the search deadline to the fall,” she said. “The crisis has a chilling ability.”

Washington motioned to cancel next week’s meeting to review the slate of candidates and decide whom to grant interviews to and bring an amended timeline that would extend the search into the fall.

Board chair Bernie Navarro asked Montoya, who came out of retirement to serve as interim president in August, how the extended process would mesh with his schedule.

“The answer has been that I will continue serving until the board feels comfortable with a candidate, with a finalist for you to select,” Montoya said. “In a period of crisis like this, you cannot abandon the ship. You need to provide support.”

Washington’s proposal passed unanimously. It is not clear when a new timeline will come before the board.

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