New trustees appointed amid uncertainty for the future of academic freedom

Trustees at April's BOT Meeting | Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

Will Sanchez | Contributing Writer

At the end of spring semester, FIU announced its two newest members to take their seats at FIU’s Board of Trustees: Alan Gonzalez and Francis Hondal.  Both are FIU alumni, having earned their master’s in business.

Hondal previously served on FIU’s Foundation Board as executive co-chair of marketing and has had 30 years of experience working in finance with companies such as Mastercard and American Express. 

Alan Gonzalez and Francis Hondal, respectively. | From FIU’s BOT webpage

Gonzalez has worked as Principal IT administrator for NextEra Energy,  parent company of Florida Power & Lights, for 25 years and holds no prior experience working with FIU or as an executive administrator. 

Though Gonzalez did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, Hondal spoke with PantherNOW about her time at FIU as a student and her hopes for her time as a trustee. 

“I started when FIU was very young and had just started its four-year program,” said Hondal, who was part of FIU’s early Greek life as a sister in Phi Sig.  “So really, the university started flourishing when we joined as students.” 

It would also be at FIU where she would meet her husband of 33 years.  And, during many of those years, Hondal would build her qualifications and experience to inform her duties serving the board of trustees.

“Over 30 years I’ve had an enormous opportunity to mentor a lot of students,” said Hondal. “I think having spent so much time in corporate, I’ve grown a deep appreciation for talent and the skills needed for tomorrow.  I want to make sure that we’re creating a competitive edge for FIU students.”

Trustees are selected by the state government, meaning that both Alan Gonzalez and Francis Hondal, regardless of their personal affiliations or beliefs, were selected through Republican-controlled and influenced institutions

Gonzalez was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis himself, while Hondal was appointed by the BOG, composed entirely of DeSantis appointees.

When asked what she brought to the table that was different from her fellow trustees, Hondal pointed to her alumna and first-generation graduate status. 

“To be able to advocate and have to have a voice to continue to enable student success and growth, high-quality education that’s accessible is a great responsibility and a very exciting one.” 

As an example of FIU’s growth, Hondal would highlight  FIU’s law school’s recent outranking of the University of Miami program – a first for the young college. 

Though Hondal had a very optimistic view about the future of FIU, it comes as a sharp contrast to the many concerns that students have faculty have about legislation in Florida molding higher education – in particular, if and how the BOT will advocate for the university. 

In fact, it was during Hondal and Gonzalez’s first meeting as trustees that organizers from FreeFIU, faculty, and SGA representatives showed up to condemn HB999 and SB256, and demand the BOG not comply with these bills. 

Now that legislation like SB266, SB 256 and  HB999 has been signed into law, it would be up to the trustees to enforce them on campus. 

Many fear it will be at the expense of academic freedom and faculty job security, as well as leading to defunding for Diversity Inclusion and Equity programs at FIU such as BSU and PSU

The FIU Board of Trustees fell into controversy during the spring semester for sending out the data regarding students who sought gender-affirming care through the campus to the Florida state government, following the requests made by the DeSantis administration. 

It was this, along with the bans of AP African History in high school curriculum in Florida, that inspired FIU students and faculty to mobilize during the spring semester. 

Despite the walkout organized by FreeFIU, the march organized by YDSA and Pride Student Union, and the resolution made by SGA last semester condemning DeSantis’s laws, trustees have done little more than simply congratulate their students and faculty on their ability to articulate their concerns with few promises of actually addressing concerns.

“If the priorities of the BOG have changed, we will react. But, I believe we will continue to serve our very diverse community in a manner that reflects the very best of what public higher education can offer,” stated BOT chair Dean Colson. 

When asked about the concerns of students who feel their majors may be negatively affected by these bills that seek to restrict curriculum and academic freedom, Hondal echoed Colson’s response with little solid response on how she hopes the BOT will handle the laws or her own views of them. 

“If that topic is a very important topic for you, there are ways for you to express it. I am not going land on ‘do I agree with this, or do I agree with that, what we need to agree on is creating an environment where people feel heard”

What Hondal and Gonzelez’s terms will look like has yet to be determined. Gonzalez’s term is scheduled to last till Jan. 6, 2026, while Francis Hondal’s term is scheduled to last till Jan. 6, 2025. 

Though her appointment comes during a controversial time in higher education in politics, Hondal concluded with a few words for students. 

“I’m so proud our university represents the future of this country. I feel proud that FIU is becoming a highly valued institution, and the students should take advantage of academia and student life here.”

Both Gonzalez and  Hondal were also mentioned by name by Oscar Alvarez, the president of the Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter at FIU, in his speech during the preceding April 13, 1,000 Panther Walkout.

“I don’t care about your accolades. What I care about is what you’re doing in your position right now, and more importantly, what actions you take!”

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