With Miami Dade College preparing to announce its next president on Wednesday, its current leader Eduardo Padrón remains a focus among the school's staff and his potential successor.
Finalists for the position have repeatedly pledged to build off his accomplishments during visits to the school's campuses and meetings with staff. And professors are expressing mixed emotions about potential changes at the school after nearly 25 years under Padrón’s leadership.
“We’re looking forward to the change. And yet at the same time, we’re afraid of what the change can be,” said Niki Goenaga, a math professor. “Miami Dade College has a legacy and without a doubt it’s something that needs to be continued. We can’t lose what we’ve gained.”
David Quesada, the mathematics department chair at MDC’s Wolfson Campus, also praised Padrón but expressed excitement about a possible new path for the college.
“I’m in favor of changing course,” he said. “The dynamic of an organization depends on exploring new avenues.”
Staff met with four finalists on Monday and Tuesday to hear more about their goals for the school. The college’s Board of Trustees now plans to interview each candidate for a second time before making its final decision.
Under the widely-popular Padrón, MDC has grown to be a nationally-renowned powerhouse among community colleges. During his tenure, MDC has become one of the country's largest institutions of higher education with more than 165,000 students and eight campuses. The school ranks first in Florida among colleges and universities for improving students’ economic social mobility.
During their hour-and-a-half presentations before more than 70 staff members, finalists repeatedly praised Padrón and also tried to set themselves apart by introducing their own plans.
Lenore Rodicio, the college’s executive vice president and provost, is the only internal candidate. She started her career at the college in 2002 as an adjunct chemistry professor before rising to dean of academic affairs.
She said her connections in Miami and the Florida legislature would help her create job opportunities for students and fundraise. Her experience at the college gives her an advantage over other candidates, she said.
“This is a large institution. It’s very complex. We have multiple moving parts in terms of the workforce programs that we have,” she said during an interview after her presentation on Tuesday. “Being here, having had the experience of these past 17 years means I will be able to hit the ground running.”
Rodicio said she would honor the college’s “story” and Padrón’s legacy but would also bring her own approach to leading the institution.
Paul Broadie II, president of Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College in Connecticut, also presented on Tuesday. He focused on closing equity gaps. The school must provide enhanced skills training opportunities and fast-track credit programs for students who are unemployed and underemployed, he said.
“Higher education breaks cycles of poverty. Our job is to introduce students to higher education,” he said. “So having a diverse array of offerings and ensuring that students are taking advantage of those offerings...that’s critical.”
Broadie, who also toured the Wolfson Campus and had breakfast with the Board of Trustees, added that he would seek Padrón’s mentorship.
“I would stand on Dr. Padrón’s shoulders and take us to the next level,” he said.
After the presentations, staff agreed there is uncertainty about the college’s future. Padrón’s departure and a new president could result in changes to programs and operations, they said.
Frandley Defilie, a political science professor, said he welcomed the new leadership. He cautioned against thinking that the college’s reputation would suffer in Padrón’s absence.
“I think change is a good thing,” he said. “I think what we’re doing is elevating to the next level and we need a president who can connect with the community, who can bring us along with them.”
Jeanne Jacobs, president of the Homestead and West campuses, added there’s “always fear of the unknown.” But she said collaboration among administrators and leaders will help ensure that the best decisions are made.
“The good news at Miami Dade College is that we are in fact a very cohesive team and family. We work together to move the institution forward,” she said.