Two finalists to be Miami Dade College’s next president say they will build on the school’s accomplishments under outgoing leader Eduardo Padrón, but they differ on their priorities for the position.
Divina Grossman and Reagan Romali presented Monday to Miami Dade College’s professors and administrators. Grossman, president and chief academic officer of University of St. Augustine for Health Services, touted her fundraising ability and connections with South Florida.
Romali, superintendent-president of Long Beach Community College District in California, said she seeks to address education barriers for students.
Paul Broadie II, president of Gateway Community College and Housatonic Community College in Connecticut, and Lenore Rodicio, executive vice president and provost at Miami Dade College, will give their own presentations on their goals for the college on Tuesday. MDC's Board of Trustees will then interview each candidate on Wednesday and is expected to select a candidate later that day.
The finalists are vying to replace Padrón who is retiring after nearly 25 years in the role. During his tenure, MDC has become one of the 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.
On Monday, Romali and Grossman both praised Padrón’s leadership and MDC's diversity.
“What he has done is to catapult Miami Dade on the national arena. It is now known all over the United States and maybe parts of the world as well,” Grossman said. Romali added that Padrón is a “hero.”
The two candidates, however, revealed their differences minutes into their hour-and-a-half presentations before about 70 people.
Grossman, who also served as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, said she has experience seeking funds from state legislators. She added her connections to South Florida separate her from some of the other candidates.
The candidate spent more than 20 years as a dean, department chair and vice president for engagement at Florida International University. She said she would work to strengthen Miami Dade College’s education partnerships with FIU and Miami Dade County Public Schools.
“How about if we brought the three systems together in a seamless interconnectedness” so that students can move faster through programs that their interested in, she said.
Romali, by comparison, said she wants to make curriculums more culturally-relevant and stressed her focus on addressing societal issues that affect Miami Dade College students. She said new programs could help convince children from an early age of the importance of receiving an education to improve their well-being.
“Students are facing homelessness. They’re facing violence, child care issues,” Romali said. “So we need to make sure that we’re expanding the resources such as food banks, exploring homeless housing.”
She added: “We must be involved in our communities and solve the problems of our communities today. I was adopted out of foster care. I have two adopted children who came from orphanages. Social justice means everything to me.”
Romali faces questions about her tenure as president of the Harry S. Truman College in the north side of Chicago from 2011 to 2017.
During a recent video interview with the MDCBoard of Trustees, Romali said she met with gang leaders in Chicago in order to reduce violence around Truman College’s campus. She then added that she convinced many of them to enroll at the school.
But WLRN’s news partner, the Miami Herald, has reported that it was unable to corroborate Romali’s account. And chairman of the Board of Trustees Bernie Navarro asked the headhunting firm being paid to help find Padrón’s successor to investigate Romali’s account.
When pressed on Monday by a Herald reporter for more details, Romali stood by her story. She said she met the gang leaders “on the streets” because “everybody knows who each other is” when you go to a Jimmy Johns or 7-Eleven. She declined to provide specifics about the gang members, saying that it was “personal” for them and she does not want to betray anyone’s confidence.