FIU announces resignation of its president, becoming latest university in leadership hunt

The news comes as three other major universities, including the University of South Florida, gear up to search for new leaders.
Florida International University South Campus in Miami.
Florida International University South Campus in Miami. [ HECTOR GABINO | El Nuevo Herald ]
Published Jan. 21, 2022|Updated Jan. 21, 2022

Mark Rosenberg, Florida International University’s fifth president, installed in August 2009, abruptly resigned Friday afternoon, effective immediately. He cited health issues for his departure after about 45 years of service.

“It is with a sense of accomplishment and sadness that I share with you that I will be resigning as president of FIU effective this Friday, January 21, 2022,” Rosenberg, 72, wrote in an email to the university community. “I am stepping back so that I may give full attention to recurring personal health issues and to the deteriorating health of my wife, Rosalie.”

Dean Colson, the chair of the FIU Board of Trustees, announced in a brief email that he accepted Rosenberg’s letter of resignation Friday. He called an emergency meeting of the university’s board of trustees for 4 p.m. Friday.

Colson, a prominent Miami personal-injury attorney who is a partner in Colson, Hicks, Eidson, said he will nominate Kenneth Jessell, FIU’s chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and administration, as interim president while the university searches for a more permanent successor.

Both the FIU Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the public university system, would need to approve Jessell’s nomination.

The news shocked many, including FIU alumni and people who have known him for decades.

Mike Hernández, a political analyst for Telemundo 51, is the immediate past president of the FIU Alumni Association. He has known Rosenberg for most of his life and last spoke to him just a few days ago about an unrelated issue. He said Rosenberg didn’t give any indication that he was close to resigning from his post.

“He had very very challenging professional and personal circumstances but the abruptness of the resignation caught everyone that I know by surprise,” said Hernández. “I have a personal relationship with Rosenberg ... It’s very personal.”

Hernández, who served as president of the Alumni Association for two years until May 2021, said that while it was true that Rosenberg had health issues, both personal and related to his wife Rosalie, he was always very private about it.

Hernández also said Rosenberg’s departure is shocking because FIU just rose 17 spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, a fact that he said Gov. Ron DeSantis is quick to tout at press conferences.

“We all are just kind of processing this,” said Hernández. “It’s very disappointing that university volunteers that are so invested in this institution did not get a heads up.”

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Rosenberg’s resignation comes as the University of Florida, the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida are gearing up to search for a new leader.

Related: USF extends presidential search timeline

It also comes as Florida lawmakers consider legislation that would shield the early phases of university presidential searches from the public eye. The concept has gained little traction in the Legislature in recent years but it is getting renewed attention this year.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, the sponsor of Senate Bill 520, says the intent is to attract the best pool of applicants. Candidates who hold jobs at the time of their application could fear backlash from their employer if their names were leaked during the search process, he said.

But critics worry the move could prevent the proper vetting of candidates and impact fairness in the process.

“Mark has done a wonderful job,” said Donna Shalala, the former Democratic member of Congress whose tenure as University of Miami president overlapped with Rosenberg’s time as FIU president. “He had an ability to work all of the constituencies on his campus, and to work with the Legislature. Basically to build consensus. And he was a really good member of the community. He was a leader of higher education in the community.”

Rosenberg first joined FIU in 1976 as an assistant professor of political science and he founded the highly regarded Latin American and Caribbean Center in 1979.

When he was named president in 2009, he was the first FIU president who rose from the faculty.

Before becoming president, he was the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, which oversees the state’s 12 public universities.

This is a breaking news story and may be updated.

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