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Miami Dade College Presidential Search Down To Final Four

Eduardo Padron Matias Ocner.jpeg
Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald
Former Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón stands in front of the Little Havana campus, which was renamed in honor of him, in May 2019. He retired in August 2019, and the school's board of trustees is close to choosing his replacement — much later than originally planned.

Four finalists will interview on campus next week.

The nearly two-year-long search for Miami Dade College’s next president has advanced to its final stage — again.

A 16-member search committee on Friday opted to recommend three finalists to the board of trustees following a series of seven interviews this week.

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It was the second iteration of the search, which first began early last year and stalled after a new majority of board members appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed dissatisfaction with the pool of candidates — causing faculty union leaders to cry politics. One lone finalist — the college’s current provost, Lenore Rodicio — was retained from the original process.

Then, the pandemic sent the second search on a months-long hiatus. Now, a conclusion appears to be in sight: The final four contenders will visit for in-person interviews next week.

The dustup that led to scrapping the new search and starting anew was due in part to the fact that some members of the board of trustees were looking for someone with a non-traditional background for a job in higher education. The second search did not yield such a candidate. All four finalists are top administrators in academia.

Among the new crop of finalists, there’s a clear frontrunner: Madeline Pumariega, executive vice president and provost of Tallahassee Community College. She received unanimous support from the committee Friday.

A Hialeah native, Pumariega studied at Miami Dade College herself and worked at the school for two decades, ending her tenure as president of the downtown campus.

She’s also the former chancellor of the Florida College System. In that position, she worked with Rick Beasley, who leads CareerSource South Florida, on programs to help graduates find jobs. Beasley is on the search committee.

During the meeting today, he said: “I love Madeline.”

Elaborating, he said: “Her passion about serving, her passion about helping youth and ensuring that everyone had an opportunity — that’s what I love the most.”

Another search committee member, Voices for Children Foundation CEO Nelson Hincapie, also has a fondness for Pumariega. He has been outspoken about his difficult childhood — he experienced sexual abuse and drug addiction — and he said Pumariega was one of the people who helped him overcome it.

In the late 1990s, he was a student at Miami Dade College, and Pumariega was an administrator.

“I had just left drug and alcohol treatment. I had no idea what my life was going to be, and I was literally at the edge, ready to jump off,” Hincapie said. “She made a huge, huge difference.”

The committee identified two other finalists during Friday’s meeting: Gregory Fowler, president of Southern New Hampshire University’s global campus and a commissioner for the New England Commission of Higher Education; and Morgan Phillips, vice chancellor for academic excellence at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

Rudy Fernandez, chief of staff to the president of the University of Miami, is also on the search committee. Fernandez said if Miami Dade College doesn’t hire Fowler, he will try to recruit him to work at UM.

“I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the last dozen years at the University of Miami, and I’ve been involved in a lot of searches,” Fernandez said. “He blew me away, in terms of his communication skills, the way he engaged with each of us. He would be a terrific fundraiser.”

The college’s board of trustees is slated to choose the next president on Nov. 17.