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  1. Florida Politics

Marco Rubio drew strong student reviews, but skimped on job requirements as FIU professor

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, shown here during a campaign stop last weekend in Des Moines,was paid for teaching at Florida International University from 2009 until April. [GETTY IMAGES]

Published Nov. 24, 2015

Marco Rubio has brushed off criticism about missing U.S. Senate votes to run for president and careless use of state GOP credit cards and political committees when he was a Florida legislative leader.

But even in an often overlooked part of Rubio's professional life — academia — public records show a familiar pattern for the presidential contender: basic expectations for the job unmet or ignored, dubious accountability and oversight, and job opportunities that would be highly unlikely for anyone without his political stature.

Rubio took an unadvertised $69,000 part-time teaching job at Florida International University in Miami as he left the state Legislature due to term limits. Even after he became a U.S. senator and started traveling the country as a national GOP star and prospective presidential candidate, he continued teaching Mondays and Fridays at FIU until April, earning $23,448 last year in addition to his $174,000 salary as a U.S. senator.

Students and teaching colleagues raved about Rubio's work in the classroom and the excitement of having a prominent Florida politician, and later a sitting U.S. senator and prospective presidential candidate, teaching them.

"He fully participated, he took his work seriously, and the students responded really well to him and had a great experience," Nicol Rae, who co-taught a class on legislative politics with Rubio in 2012 and now is dean of Montana State University's College of Letters and Science, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Yet, despite consistently strong student evaluations for Rubio, records obtained by the Times indicate he was expected to do considerably more work than he actually performed.

"The requirements of this position include, but are not limited to the following: prepare and present lectures, develop reading lists, assign and grade homework, prepare, give and grade tests, meet with students, and provide grades to students in accordance with the academic standards of Florida International University," stated letters signed by Rubio and his supervisors in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

But Rubio never developed reading lists or graded papers or tests, according his colleagues.

"There's a reason FIU asked him to come back year after year. They clearly felt he was providing a great value to the students," said Rubio adviser Todd Harris, suggesting "some boilerplate language" in Rubio's hiring documents don't adequately describe his job expectations.

"The only people who ever seem to have a problem with any of this are Marco's political opponents and a couple members of the media," Harris said.

Rubio first began working at FIU in 2009, for the school's urban think tank called the Metropolitan Center.

In addition to co-teaching a course with his longtime friend and pollster, Dario Moreno, documents show he was supposed to develop policy recommendations for an affordable housing summit; arrange a followup conference with local and state leaders; take the lead on Metropolitan Center breakfast forums on the 2008 presidential election and on hurricane mitigation; and develop research projects for the center.

But the Metropolitan Center never did hold a followup affordable housing conference or a breakfast focused on hurricane mitigation. FIU records obtained by the Times make no mention of Rubio's participation in the policy recommendations for the first affordable housing summit, or any research projects developed by Rubio.

Moreno recalled that Rubio did help develop policy recommendations and was involved in at least two breakfast forums, including one on the 2008 presidential election, though he acknowledged the followup housing forum listed in Rubio's job offer letter never occurred.

FIU agreed to pay Rubio $69,000 for 2009, but as his U.S. Senate campaign against Charlie Crist consumed more of his time, that was reduced to $40,000.

"I just spoke to the Provost and he is OK with the agreed $40K as long (as) there are clear responsibilities and accountability," Kenneth Furton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email in late 2009 approving Rubio's reduced pay.

Strong oversight and accountability appears lacking in the FIU records throughout his years there.

After he won his Senate seat, Rubio moved from FIU's Metropolitan Center into a more traditional part-time teaching job.

The class he co-taught met two hours and 40 minutes a week, for instance, but FIU salary forms from 2011 to 2015 usually describe him working 20 hours a week — even as a full-time senator in Washington.

Rubio's supervisor at FIU, John Stack, did not respond to requests for comment, and a Metropolitan Center colleague whom Rubio was supposed to assist with research, Ned Murray, referred an inquiry to FIU's communications office.

"Time in the classroom is only a part of what faculty members do," FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana emailed when asked about the plausibility of Rubio doing at least 17 hours of FIU work outside of the classroom while also serving as a senator. "They must stay current and prepare for class, as well as meet with students outside of class time."

She made no further comments.

Nicol Rae, Rubio's co-teacher in 2012, said he had no idea how much time Rubio spent readying for class but he was always well-prepared and attended about 80 or 85 percent of the classes.

Moreno, another co-teacher, said his presence in the classroom has been a coup for FIU.

"He showed up; he did his job. The students liked him, and he would spend time with students, not a lot but usually half an hour after class," Moreno said, noting that many students have gone on to internships in Rubio's Senate office.

FIU hired Rubio with the understanding that he would privately raise most of the money for his salary. The school has declined to identify donors in that effort. But the New York Times in June revealed that Norman Braman, a Miami billionaire who is helping bankroll Rubio's presidential campaign and also employs his wife, Jeanette Rubio, gave $100,000 to FIU to cover Rubio's position.

The Senate Ethics Committee approved Rubio's job with FIU, which is unusual but not unprecedented. Before he became vice president, Sen. Joe Biden earned more than $20,000 for helping teach a class at Widener School of Law, which has campuses in Wilmington, Del., and Harrisburg, Pa.

It has become increasingly common for universities and community colleges in Florida to hire legislators or politicians for part-time positions. But for Rubio, whose humble roots are a central part of his campaign story, it is one of several examples of where his political position overlapped with his family finances.

LAVISH RISE: Records detail big spending even while Rubio was barely solvent

His annual income grew from $72,000 when he was elected to the Florida House at age 28 in 2000 and more than tripled by 2004 when he locked down enough support from Republican colleagues to be in line for House speaker. That's when a firm with extensive lobbying interests, Broad and Cassel, hired Rubio as a part-time lawyer for the firm for $300,000.

To help his rise to the speakership, Rubio created political committees that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on political consultants, meals, travel expenses, reimbursements to Rubio's wife and payments to relatives, as he built up a statewide political profile. He also charged nearly $200,000 on a state party credit card — from gas to clothing to meals and plane tickets — including personal items, such as tiles for his home.

Critics have accused him of using his political position and perks to land cushy jobs like the one at FIU or to subsidize his own living expenses, but Rubio insists that he ultimately paid for everything that was not related to political work.

Opponents failed to gain much traction using those issues against him when he ran for U.S. Senate, and so far, Rubio has shrugged off questions about it from reporters and criticism from GOP rival Donald Trump.

"The truth is, my finances — not anymore, but maybe my first 10, 15 years of my marriage — looked a lot more like the people I represent than the people I served with," he said recently on Fox News.

Contact Adam Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @AdamSmithTimes.

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