Eight Miami Dade College professors have filed a lawsuit against the College’s District Board of Trustees over their decision to reopen the presidential search process.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eleventh Judicial Court earlier today by Phillips, Richard & Rind, P.A.—a firm run by Mark Richard, former paralegal professor and UFMDC attorney—cites that trustees violated due process laws in their decision to close, and take over, the presidential search process, and demands that the process be transparent to the public.
“Five hundred people inquired, 47-50 applied, seven finalists were interviewed, curriculum vitaes were poured through, meetings with students and stakeholders,” Richard said during a press conference at West Campus on Wednesday morning announcing the lawsuit. “The dates were always stayed the same. The committee was complimented. [Bernie Navarro] promised, and we believed him and still do, that this would be an open and transparent process that couldn’t be changed at the last minute. They changed everything in the 11th hour.”
Surrounded by about 20 MDC faculty members, Richard demanded that the Board adhere to the transparency of the current process, which consisted of a 17-member search committee made up of MDC students, faculty and local community leaders. The Board scrapped the process on July 24, citing that five of the seven members were newly appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis and did not have a familiarity with the College’s vision for the president.
“You want me to jump in bed at the last minute,” said Marcell Felipe during an interview with CBS Miami. “At least take me to dinner, give me some wine and let’s see where it leads.”
Among the seven members, four were appointed on April 24. The four were invited to an orientation program for new Board members—of which all trustees except Felipe attended—as well as the open forum presentations from the four finalists. In the same meeting Felipe was sworn in as a trustee on May 21, he proposed lowering the minimum educational requirements for presidential search applicants, three months into the process.
“We need some time to get used to the institution, the mission, the values—[to] understand where we’re going before we make a decision of this magnitude,” Felipe said in an interview with The Reporter on July 24. “From this point on, we have to figure out what we’re going to do. I think it’s the right move because this is a decision that’s going to impact, not just Miami Dade College, but all of South Florida for hopefully the next generation.”
Throughout the process, the Board has recognized that the process must be “open and transparent.” Public meetings were held in accordance to Florida Sunshine Laws for three months. On several occasions, Chairman Bernie Navarro applauded the efforts of both the committee and Diversified Search Firm, who recruited and selected the four finalists.
“I felt the process was transparent. We felt those four candidates were well-qualified, otherwise we would have not moved forward,” said Marie Entienne, former search committee member and nursing professor at Medical Campus on Wednesday. “When I heard of the decision of the [Board], I was in dismay. I was extremely sad by the fact that we worked countless hours to ensure that we put forth the best of the best to lead the institution.”
The College will have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. According to MDC legal counsel Javier Ley-Soto, the College is undecided on how to proceed with the case; they have not determined if an internal or external lawyer will be used.
The firm representing the professors sent Hogan Lovells US LLP., an outside legal counsel for the College, an official notice this morning to preserve electronic evidence and handwritten notes from current trustees along with their respective staff and advisors accumulated during the presidential search.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Susan E. Garcia, a music professor at New World School of the Arts; Elizabeth Ramey, an English professor at Wolfson Campus and UFMDC president; A.J Krieder, a philosophy professor at Homestead Campus; Irene Lipof, a retired education and social sciences professor, Annete Gibson, a retired nursing professor; Sarah Garman, a humanities professor at North Campus, Marie Entienne, a nursing professor at Medical Campus; Rosany Alvarez, a mathematics professor at Eduardo J. Padron Campus.
The professors suing the Board, some of whom are currently employed as tenured employees of the College, said the lawsuit will not affect their classes this coming fall semester. According to MDC director of communications Juan Mendieta, the professors are guaranteed protection because the suit doesn’t violate their contract.
“We will never compromise the quality of this college,” Richard said. “Our bond with our students is unbreakable, and five trustees can’t ever change that.”
Staff Writer Alina Halley contributed to this story.