Broward College President Gregory Adam Haile abruptly resigned from his position Wednesday evening, joining the growing list of Florida college and university leaders who have left their posts in the last year after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed conservative board members.
But during an emergency meeting Thursday morning, where the Board of Trustees was expected to announce an acting president, the trustees in a surprise move instead agreed to hold off on accepting — or rejecting — Haile’s resignation. Like many of the community members who spoke, board members said they were shocked to learn of Haile’s resignation and needed to understand more about his decision to leave before determining what action they should take.
The members agreed they wanted to see if the issue was fixable. Some members, though, including Chairperson Alexis Yarbrough, whom DeSantis appointed to the board in February along with two others, acknowledged an agreement may not be up to them.
“I don’t know how we got here either,” she said. “There have been some difficult business questions (in meetings), but there has been no indication to indicate that the board desired this outcome.” She said she didn’t know why Haile resigned, so she didn’t know “if we have control over the outcome.”
Haile was not at the meeting.
The decision came a little more than an hour after the emergency meeting began and after about a dozen speakers, including those in the business community, urged board members to do “whatever you can” to keep Haile as the college’s leader and not “let him go” — the latter a sentiment board members pushed back on.
Craig Farlie, chairperson of the Broward College Foundation, said losing Haile “would be a major loss.” At best, he said, it would be “destabilizing;” at worst, it would be “catastrophic.” Farlie noted the college is in the midst of one of its largest capital campaigns.
Former Democratic State Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. echoed others, including Farlie, arguing the college has “an opportunity to straighten this out.”
“Know that our delegation and our community are watching how this turns out. We’re disappointed today. Hopefully, we’ll be encouraged tomorrow,” he said.
Haile, who was hired in 2018 as the college’s seventh president, is a highly regarded educator.
He was the first public college president to serve as deputy chairperson of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. An attorney, he was educated at Columbia University School of Law, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and editor-in-chief of the National Black Law Journal. He has taught at Harvard University, as well as Broward College and Miami-Dade College. DeSantis appointed him to an education advisory committee and to the Re-Open Florida Task Force.
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The college “can’t afford to lose Haile,” Thurston said.
Changes at other colleges
News of the resignation reached the board and the college community Wednesday.
In an emailed letter sent to the board, Haile described achievements and accomplishments during his tenure, including recognition from The Aspen Institute and the largest grant in the college’s history. Haile also cited the establishment of various student support programs, such as a food pantry to address food insecurity among students, and a partnership with Lyft to provide free rides for students with transportation challenges. (Broward College is the fourth-largest community college in the country. Miami-Dade College is the largest.)
Still, Haile said in the letter, “It is time to move on.”
Also mentioned in his letter were the board’s recent appointments. Along with Yarbrough, DeSantis appointed two other new board members in February — Cindy Kushner and Mario Zanotti-Cavazzoni — and reappointed Zachariah “Reggie” Zachariah Jr., the current vice chairperson, to the five-person board. Haile said the members did not request his resignation.
Since the beginning of the year, DeSantis has been appointing new, more conservative members to state college and university boards. In January, he appointed six new trustees to the board at New College, a state school in Sarasota that prided itself on its liberal arts education. At the time, New College President Patricia Okker called the board changes a “hostile takeover.” The new board fired her.
The board of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton held a heated board meeting in August amid a contentious presidential search, with some board members slamming the process while others defended it, the Sun Sentinel reported. The search committee had named three finalists; the list did not include Florida House Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from Brevard County whom DeSantis supported. The state’s Board of Governors froze the search in July, citing “anomalies” in the search process.