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ICCAS-gate at the University of Miami: It’s the Cover-up that Gets You

By: José Azel - Aug 4, 2017, 10:27 am
University of Miami
But, whether Dr. Frenk intended to dismantle ICCAS is, as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 23, “one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it.” (Wikipedia)

EspañolThe Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration and President Clinton’s forcefully claiming “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” are two of the most infamous examples of the “it’s the cover-up that gets you” dictum.

The suffix “-gate” has become synonymous with presidential scandal and cover-up. I introduce it here to expose the ICCAS-gate cover-up by University of Miami President Dr. Julio Frenk. The buck stops with the President, and I seek to show, responsibly and factually, that Dr. Frenk intended to dismantle ICCAS, and is now engaged in a cover-up of those intentions.

My association with the University of Miami dates back to the late 1960s when I was a business student. Over the years, I earned bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees, becoming a three-time UM alumni. I am also a former adjunct business professor, and a member of the ICCAS team. This is to say, I wish only the best for my beloved Alma Mater and my community.

But, whether Dr. Frenk intended to dismantle ICCAS is, as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 23, “one of those truths which, to a correct and unprejudiced mind, carries its own evidence along with it.”

The controversy surfaced with a July 10 Miami Herald article citing Dr. Jaime Suchlicki as having been instructed to affect the cessation of ICCAS operations. In June, Dr. Suchlicki wrote to his staff:

“This is to inform you that as of August 15, 2017, I will be leaving the University of Miami.

I have been instructed by the Office of the Provost to affect the cessation of operations for the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, consequently your position has been eliminated and you will be placed on layoff status as of August 15, 2017.”

I respectfully complied by vacating my office, returning my keys, and retiring in sad silence. Now, compelled by the cover-up, I speak publicly for the first time on ICCAS-gate.

As instructed by Dr. Frenk the entire ICCAS staff was fired in June. Yet, the July Miami Herald article quotes Jacqueline R. Menendez, UM’s Vice President for Communications, caustically refuting Dr. Suchlicki: “the only thing that has happened is that Jaime retires on Aug. 15 there are no plans to close ICCAS.”

I will generously assume that Ms. Menendez was misled by her boss, President Frenk. Her statement that “there are no plans to close ICCAS,” when, in fact, ICCAS had already been effectively closed by the firing of all its personnel is patently false.

I hope Ms. Menendez would not be as callous as to consider the firing of the entire ICCAS staff a non-event as implied by her statement that “the only thing that has happened is that Jaime retires on Aug. 15.” Is the firing of all ICCAS personnel not a “thing”?

I have verified that Dr. Suchlicki’s termination agreement explicitly requires him to “…effect the cessation of operations for the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.” Similarly, Ms. Menendez should have sought the truth from her boss to avoid misleading our community. She has now been made complicit in the cover-up.

Those are the facts as I know them. Now we can ask: If Dr. Frenk’ did not intend to dismantle ICCAS, why did he find it necessary to fire, without the courtesy of an explanation, the entire ICCAS staff? Were they incompetent, or were they an impediment to the implementation of his plans? What were those plans?

Dr. Frenk had been formulating his Cuban studies ideas for many months, and he had commissioned a comprehensive study of options to his friend, Harvard Professor Jorge Dominguez.  Given this careful advanced planning, if there was no intention to dismantle ICCAS, the announcement of Dr. Suchlicki’s departure would have been accompanied with the announcement of the new interim director, or perhaps even the new director.

That was not the case, and the untimely appointment of an interim director appears to be an improvised, disingenuous cover-up to placate the community’s outrage. Dr. Frenk has been untruthful with our community, and now, under pressure, he will meet with community representatives on 18 August. I pray he uses that opportunity to come clean about his designs.  Our community deserves honesty, not an ICCAS-gate cover-up.

José Azel José Azel

Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.