‘It’s weird’: FIU expresses little admiration, concern for Rosenberg after abrupt exit

·4 min read

Hours after Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg announced his resignation on Friday, citing health problems for him and his wife, students, staff and friends rushed to thank him for his decades at the university and to wish him good health.

Conspicuously missing from the conversation, though, was the university he led for the past 12 years and its board of trustees, which barely commented on his tenure or his well-being during an emergency meeting Friday.

“It’s weird. It is very odd,” said Thomas Breslin, a faculty member who joined FIU in 1976 and has served as dean, vice provost and vice president.

Breslin was a member of the board of trustees from 2008 to 2012. The board of trustees, in his eyes, has mishandled Rosenberg’s departure.

“As a former trustee it’s absolutely appalling,” said Breslin, 76. “When I left the board after four years of service, there was a little plaque, some words of service. That always, always was done for outgoing trustees. There was always recognition.”

None of the current members of the FIU Board of Trustees could be reached for comment Saturday, except for Trustee Donna J. Hrinak, senior vice president for the new corporate affairs in the Royal Caribbean Group. She declined to comment and referred a Herald reporter to the university’s communications office.

The university did not respond to a request for comment Saturday, when the Herald inquired about the apparent lack of public admiration and concern for Rosenberg, who in a statement released by the university cited health issues for his abrupt exit.

“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,” Rosenberg explained in the statement.

Rosenberg, 72, didn’t respond to a request for comment. He stepped down after a successful year at FIU, in which the university rose a historic 17 spots to No. 78 among public universities in the country, according to US News and World rankings.

In a lengthy sit-down with the Herald in December, Rosenberg talked about his hopes for the university’s future, and said he had no plans to retire soon.

Board of Trustees Chairman Dean Colson broke the news of Rosenberg’s resignation Friday afternoon in a three-paragraph email, notably deficient of commendation and reasoning. During a brief 15-minute meeting shortly after, during which the board picked Rosenberg’s interim successor, Colson delivered his message in a practical tone.

“All of you have been briefed on this, so I’m not going to go through all of the details, but early this afternoon I received and accepted President Rosenberg’s written resignation effective today, January 21, 2022,” Colson told his fellow trustees at the top of the video conference.

Colson nominated Kenneth Jessell, FIU’s chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and administration since 2009, as interim president while the university searches for a permanent president. Applauding his nomination and work, the board approved Jessell unanimously.

Jessell, 66, released a video late Friday night in which he mentioned Rosenberg in a one-liner.

“I want to thank former President Mark Rosenberg for his leadership and hard work in helping to make FIU what it is today,” he said.

“Now, inspired by the goals and dreams of our students and fueled by the talent and commitment of our faculty and staff, I know that we will continue to elevate our university to new heights,” Jessell added.

Contrast that with the retirement of Rosenberg’s predecessor, Modesto A. Maidique, for whom the university named its main campus in Sweetwater.

The lack of information from the university has fostered skepticism in South Florida.

Election attorney and former state Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas tweeted Saturday that the publicly funded institution owed the public more information about Rosenberg’s departure. In a brief interview, he declined to speculate why the university has been so muted, but said it’s strange that the school and its leadership haven’t been more supportive of a leader citing health issues on his way out the door.

“Nothing here makes sense,” he said. “And the way the trustees didn’t praise him makes this suspicious.”

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