It may not be a unicorn, but Miami Dade College trustees are looking for something incomparable to replace retiring president Eduardo J. Padrón.
Padrón announced his retirement on Feb. 1, ending a near 50-year tenure at the College and almost 25 years as president. With his departure set for August, that has required the Board of Trustees—and their hired group, Diversified Search—to intensify their search for his successor.
Who that successor is, though, is another question.
“I don’t like the term ‘unicorn,’’ said vice chair Jose K. Fuentes, referring to an article by the Miami Herald that describes the search in that context. “I don’t think our vision is that we want a unicorn because, first of all, it’s mythological, it’s non-existent—it’s not going to happen.”
What the College does want, though, is someone who can carry on the traits of Padrón that spearheaded MDC to become the nation’s largest higher education institution.
“I want someone who’s going to be there and lead the College in its continued path of being the preeminent college in the United States, America’s College,” Fuentes said.
That involves finding someone who can speak to the group that is ultimately affected by the decision: the more than 165,000 student body population.
“Our first priority [is the] students,” Fuentes said. “We have such a diversified body of students. We want to make sure that the students have someone that understands them.”
The role is being pushed through an open-call listing, with minimum requirements including a doctorate from an accredited institution and at least 10 years of senior management experience, with six of them at an educational institution.
That tight-lipped process is being organized by Diversified Search, a firm that specializes in finding candidates for large organizations. According to John Mestepey, an executive director with the firm, it will support the College’s selection committee on fielding applications and screening candidates, though the firm would not comment on much else.
“It’s pretty routine,” said Juan Mendieta, MDC’s director of communications. “They do all of the support and the outreach—they’re the experts.”
However, the search isn’t being narrowly defined by its job posting.
“Maybe there’s some things in the job description that may have been added that maybe the person doesn’t have, but maybe they meet eight out of 10 points in the job description,” Fuentes said. “I’m not ruling out anyone at this point.”
According to sources familiar with the process, some of the names floated to board members in conversation include former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former chancellor for the Florida College System Madeline Pumariega.
In Ros-Lehtinen’s case, she believes it will be hard to replace the legacy of Padrón.
“It’s hard to think of Miami Dade College without automatically thinking of the visual representation of Eduardo Padrón,” said Ros-Lehtinen, now a senior adviser with the international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. “It’s just difficult to fathom [MDC] without his presence and his spirit and his guidance.”
However, Ros-Lehtinen unequivocally ruled out the position from her future.
“That’s a great honor and I would truly be honored to have that position,” she said. “[But] I am not going to be in consideration. I’m very happy where I am and that’s where I’m staying.”
For Pumariega, she believes any leader must have the College’s values at heart.
“Miami Dade College is the community’s college. Miami Dade is really that beacon of hope for the community,” Pumariega said. “There’s an opportunity for a leader to come in and leverage that success, to build on that legacy.”
Pumariega demurred on whether she would take the position herself.
“I’m not really considering the position right now,” she said.
Even with those values in mind, it will not be the easiest search. The College is committing itself to a summer timetable, though there is an issue of the board’s composition. Florida Politics reported last month that Governor Ron DeSantis has recalled four board members: Susan Amat, Rolando Montoya, Juan C. Zapata and Benjamin Leon III, leaving doubt as to whether a new replacement could impact the decision.
In Fuentes’ mind, though, the Board has to keep on moving.
“We do have a number of board members that are, I’ll call it the ‘bubble term,’ but we have to go forth as if everyone’s in place,” Fuentes said. “I think the Board and Chairman Navarro has really taken this approach of, we’re moving forward and everything we’re doing is going to be in place in case we have to switch boards or change boards.”
The Governor’s office did not respond to multiple email and phone requests for comment concerning the board members by the time The Reporter went to print.
Despite those factors, the search will be done with the ultimate goal in mind: finding someone that holds MDC as their ultimate passion.
“This is such an important position for the College and second to the county and the community that our focus is really trying to get the process correct,” Fuentes said. “Because, if we mess up that, the end result is going to be a bad cake.”