Source: FIU employee confided to colleague that Rosenberg had been harassing her

·6 min read
Pedro Portal/pportal@miamiherald.com

A young woman who worked closely with Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg confided to a colleague in December that Rosenberg harassed her for months, triggering an investigation that led to his abrupt resignation Friday, according to a source close to the investigation.

FIU hired an outside law firm to lead the investigation, which began in mid-December and will likely end with a final report in the next few weeks, the source said. Investigators are examining text messages, emails and in-person conversations between Rosenberg, 72, and the FIU employee, who is in her 20s. A second source with knowledge of the case confirmed the investigation.

Rosenberg on Sunday acknowledged that he had “caused discomfort for a valued colleague,” but did not divulge details or identify the woman. The Herald has contacted her multiple times via telephone calls, text and emails, but she has not responded. As a policy, the Herald does not identify victims of such alleged harassment.

The alleged harassment began in October 2021, the source close to the investigation told the Miami Herald. Rosenberg repeatedly told the woman in private conversations that he loved her, wanted to be with her, and would take care of her. She rejected his overtures, saying they made her feel uncomfortable. He apologized profusely and said it would not happen again, the source said.

A few weeks later, Rosenberg made unwanted overtures again, and again the woman conveyed her discomfort. Rosenberg apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again, the source said.

Shortly after the overtures happened a third time, the woman decided to distance herself from Rosenberg. On Dec. 14, she told her FIU colleague all that had ensued and that she didn’t think she could work with Rosenberg any more. This was the first time the woman told anyone at FIU about this, the source said.

The woman then told Rosenberg how she felt and she would be leaving her post, according to the source.

Rosenberg then called the FIU Board of Trustees Chairman Dean Colson, a prominent Miami attorney, to report what transpired, the source said. Colson launched the investigation the next day.

The woman was placed on paid administrative leave while the inquiry took place, the source said. Rosenberg continued working.

The investigators reached out to the woman first, but she initially declined an interview, the source said. It took a few weeks until she was ready to sit down, with her own attorney present, to recount the alleged harassment.

That interview took place last Wednesday.

“Her interview painted a different picture of a more serious nature,” the source said.

A day later, last Thursday, Rosenberg was given a choice: He needed to resign or FIU’s Board of Trustees would call an emergency meeting to terminate him, the source said. On Friday, Rosenberg resigned, effective immediately.

Rosenberg could not be reached for comment Sunday night. His attorney, reached Sunday night, declined to comment on his behalf.

Colson, reached Sunday evening, declined comment.

Earlier Sunday, Rosenberg, who has been president of South Florida’s largest public university since 2009, sent out a statement to the FIU community saying he had “caused discomfort for a valued colleague,” acknowledging, “I unintentionally created emotional [not physical] entanglement” with that FIU employee.

In the same statement, Rosenberg said, “I have apologized. I apologize to you. I take full responsibility and regret my actions.”

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Rosenberg, who has been with FIU for more than 40 years, starting as an assistant professor of political science in 1976, said his mental health had been impacted by the pressure of caring for Rosalie, his wife of 47 years who has advanced dementia. He said her condition has worsened in recent months, and led to the incident with an FIU employee.

The statement did not disclose any further details on what had happened between Rosenberg and the FIU staffer.

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“Until very recently, I had been blessed with the ability to juggle the challenges that come with my position at FIU and the needs of my bride of 47 years: Rosalie, a Type 1 diabetic on insulin for 45 years, has advanced dementia, M.S. and is largely wheelchair bound. I have been her nightly caregiver for over a decade,” he said in the statement.

“But Rosalie’s condition entered a new stage in just the last few months, resulting in further cognitive debilitation. When I finally realized the impact that her condition had on my personal well-being in late October, 2021, I sought professional mental health services and am still under a specialist’s care.”

After Rosenberg’s statement on Sunday morning, Colson issued a statement explaining why the board had little to say when it announced Rosenberg’s departure on Friday, putting out a terse, three-paragraph statement that the board had accepted his resignation. Friday’s statement by the board said nothing about Rosenberg’s accomplishments as president, which included securing a $40 million gift from MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist who gave FIU its largest single unrestricted gift in its 50-year history.

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“The statement by Dr. Rosenberg provides greater insight into his resignation on Friday,” Colson wrote in Sunday’s statement. “It also provides insight into why the Board did not believe Friday was the appropriate time to celebrate the many accomplishments of FIU the past 13 years. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the events requiring his resignation.

“Due to employee privacy considerations, FIU is not going to comment further at this time. FIU has strong personnel and workplace conduct policies, takes all workplace conduct seriously, and remains committed to enforcing its policies thoroughly and swiftly.”

The board on Friday named Kenneth Jessell, 66, FIU’s chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and administration since 2009, as FIU’s interim president. The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s 12 public universities, will have to confirm Jessell as interim.

On Sunday, Rosenberg praised Jessell’s appointment. Before coming to FIU in 2009, Jessell spent more than 25 years in senior administrative roles at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“Without a doubt he is the right person at this moment to help all of us sustain our forward movement and continue with the unprecedented student success that marks our ascendance,” Rosenberg wrote in his statement.

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Rosenberg said he self-reported what happened with his co-worker and after consulting with Colson, he decided to resign.

In his statement Sunday, he acknowledged his own mental health issues in juggling his high-powered job as FIU president with the escalating needs of caring for his wife.

“While we have spent years drawing attention to the impact of mental health challenges, I can give personal testimony to the reality of this menace,” he said in the statement. “I encourage your empathy and action with those who around you who may need additional help and support. For those of you inquiring I am currently receiving mental health counseling and seeking stress relief, and additional help for Rosalie and our family as we move through the inevitable progression of her condition.

“I regret that I may have burdened you with these details. We all want the same thing: a better, more robust and thriving FIU. I believe that this message should provide clarity.”

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