Mark Rosenberg, Florida International University’s longtime president, stepped down in January. He initially said it was due to a family matter but later admitted that he’d been accused of inappropriate conduct involving a subordinate.
Rosenberg, who is also a tenured professor of political science at FIU, has since been on research leave, receiving his full presidential salary of $502,579.
Now he plans to return to the faculty in the spring term, co-teaching two courses (the university initially said he’d be teaching just one course per term) at a salary of $376,934. He’s eligible for a $30,000 research budget and a staff assistant, as well.
FIU’s Faculty Advisory Board, composed of administrators, reviewed an independent investigation into the allegations against Rosenberg. Following this review, FIU said that if Rosenberg decided to return to teaching, he’d have to complete annual sexual harassment training and some related requirements.
The Faculty Senate wasn’t consulted on Rosenberg’s return. But there’s been little public faculty reaction to the news, good or bad. The chair of the Senate told Inside Higher Ed Thursday that the matter hadn’t been discussed in that forum at all.
Rosenberg did not respond to an interview request.
FIU shared numerous documents about the case but provided no comment for publication.
Controversy or not, Rosenberg’s case demonstrates how presidents felled by sexual harassment scandals can land relatively softly among the faculty. Rosenberg was allowed to resign, take a paid research leave and return to a university professorship. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Mark Schlissel was removed for cause as president in January, following a complaint that he was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. He got a year's paid leave, at $463,000, plus other benefits, and an offer to return to the faculty at a salary of $185,000. At Sonoma State University, former president Judy Sakaki resigned in June amid a sexual harassment case involving her husband. She was slated to move into a yearlong administrative role with a $254,438 salary, and then transition to a faculty post in the California State University system.
Looking for a ‘Companion’
According to an independent investigation commissioned by FIU, the university's general counsel contacted investigators in December about allegations of inappropriate conduct on Rosenberg’s part. Counsel said Rosenberg had self-reported that he'd told a female employee that he had feelings for her, and that in so doing he’d made her uncomfortable.
Rosenberg had never previously been accused of inappropriate behavior, the investigative report says. The report also notes that Rosenberg had been married to his wife, Rosalie, since 1974, and that she’d been unable to care for herself due to dementia since around 2010. Rosenberg served as his wife’s sole nighttime caregiver through December, when he hired a live-in caregiver.
The female employee’s supervisor told investigators that Rosenberg disclosed last October that he intended to get a “Jewish divorce” from his wife and find a “companion” with whom he could travel and talk. The supervisor said that Rosenberg also asked the female employee out to lunch to discuss something around the same time. A few weeks later, the supervisor said, the female employee said that Rosenberg was acting “weird,” and that she wanted to transfer out of the office. The supervisor said she spoke to Rosenberg about this, and that Rosenberg said he would apologize.
In mid-December, the supervisor said, the female employee again complained about Rosenberg, saying that he’d “creeped her out” by saying he had feelings for her and writing a list of places that they could travel together as companions. The supervisor said the female employee did not want to formally report the matter, and that Rosenberg separately said that he’d “messed up” by misreading the situation.
Rosenberg told investigators that he’d been recruited last fall to interview as president of Auburn University, and that he’d asked the female employee privately if she’d consider being his companion when he stepped down from FIU. Rosenberg said that he didn’t explicitly talk about whether sex would be part of such an arrangement, but that he was open to it. He reportedly said that the woman was young but beyond her years, and that she was outspoken, so if she didn’t like something, she would have said so. Rosenberg said that the woman did tell him that she was very unhappy in her job a few weeks after the conversation about companionship, but that he encouraged her to stay and helped arrange a pay increase for her (though not as much as she’d wanted, he told investigators).
Rosenberg said that he and the woman had a “great, warm, positive” relationship, and that he’d once bought her running shoes. They’d also attended a Miami Heat game together, he said. “How could she feel uncomfortable with me,” Rosenberg reportedly asked investigators after recounting how the woman chatted with him at his home after she dropped off a file on a holiday weekend.
After Rosenberg asked the woman to travel with him to a museum in New Orleans, however, he said, she told him that she couldn’t work with him anymore.
‘Extremely Poor Judgment’
The female employee told investigators that she’d started to feel uncomfortable around Rosenberg in the spring of 2021, after he told her that her boyfriend was not right for her. Later that year, she said, Rosenberg tried to make their respective trips to Las Vegas overlap, and allegedly he paid for a room at a specific hotel there for her. She did not accommodate this request, as she was on vacation, she said, but when she returned to work, Rosenberg visited the office on his own day off to bring her tacos. The woman also said that when Rosenberg asked her to be his companion last October, he specifically used the word “lover.” She tried to act like nothing had happened after that at work, she said, but Rosenberg allegedly commented on her clothing and asked if she’d dressed so nicely for him, and stayed at the office until she left. Within the next few weeks, she said, Rosenberg took her to lunch and confessed his love her for, telling her that he wanted to marry her and care for her professionally and financially.
After confiding in two friends and her mother, the woman said, she disclosed her discomfort to her supervisor. Around this time, Rosenberg allegedly told her he’d stop all “advances,” but still continued calling her “princess,” hugging her and refusing to eat lunch without her. The woman said that she finally demanded a transfer out of the office the day before Rosenberg self-reported to FIU.
Examining emails and texts between Rosenberg and the employee, investigators said they found no “smoking guns” regarding sexual harassment, but they did document an “uncomfortable and inappropriate” level of familiarity between the two: lots of complimenting each other and heart emojis. The texts “demonstrate a professional boundary that was crossed by both,” investigators wrote.
Rosenberg denied that he’d ever asked the woman to be his “lover” or that he’d said he’d stop his “advances.” In any case, investigators concluded, “given his position as a president of a major educational institution, the substantial disparity in age and obvious power dynamic that existed in the relationship, the president, at best, displayed extremely poor judgement. That poor judgement continued after being told to stop on more than one occasion.”
After being told that his alleged behavior was “more serious that originally contemplated,” Rosenberg stepped down, the report says.
Even after his resignation as president, Rosenberg remained a tenured faculty member, and his case was referred to the Faculty Advisory Board.
Expectations for Return
Rosenberg went on research leave following his resignation. Kenneth A. Jessell, then the interim president (and FIU's new president), wrote to Rosenberg in April to share expectations, should Rosenberg choose to return to FIU. This included annual sexual harassment training and meeting with the university’s coordinator for Title IX, the federal law against gender discrimination in education.
In response to Jessell’s memo, Rosenberg wrote, “I was led to believe that my resignation and its immediacy would alleviate any concerns that FIU had about the situation and would bring this matter to a close with the appropriate remedial action to be determined.” Jessell’s expectations, Rosenberg said, “are not precisely tailored to the situation and may act as perpetual motion machine of remedial action that ignores pertinent circumstances.”
Rosenberg went on to say that he’d abide by the requirements set for him, but that “I am no longer president so any concern about misuse of any power dynamic that comes with that position are obviated.” He also highlighted the investigators’ conclusion that both he and the female employee engaged in inappropriate familiarity over texts.
Rosenberg’s contract, established in 2009, says that if his presidency ends, he’ll have the option of serving as a full-time tenured faculty member. He is guaranteed a minimum of $245,000 per year for at least three years, which in part explains his large paycheck.
Ann Olivarius, a sexual discrimination and harassment lawyer, in a statement said that FIU was “passing the trash,” a term used to describe how academic institutions have been known to quietly allow harassers to move on to other colleges and universities. In this case, however, FIU is accused of “passing the trash” to itself.
Susan Pierce, a higher education leadership consultant and president emerita of the University of Puget Sound, said that there are “some key factors that probably led to the [FIU’s] various decisions, but most of all that he resigned in good standing—which meant that the university would have been contractually obligated to fulfill the terms of his contract.”
That the FIU Faculty Advisory Board “signed off on his returning is also a critical factor,” Pierce said of Rosenberg.