The Graduate

After ten years as city manager, Cesar Odio is still catching flak about his college education. Give the guy a break. Better yet, give him a diploma.

Sucking on one Marlboro after another, the former city worker explained that Odio suffered a scare during the 1985 selection of Sergio Pereira as city manager. When Pereira's lack of credentials was revealed by the search firm Korn/Ferry, Odio wanted desperately to find a diploma for the Villanueva degree he claimed on his resume. This former employee set about obtaining one. When asked if he had photocopied it and whited-out the owner's name, as the woman said, his eyes lit up. "That's exactly what happened! That's exactly what happened!" he repeated, the words sputtering forth in a rush.

The man emphasized that he is not a disgruntled former employee with an ax to grind. He believes that Odio is a good manager who has done a decent job for the city. "Why did I do it?" he said in response to a question about the fake diploma. "I like Cesar Odio, that's why. He's too stupid to be a bad guy."

Confronted with these new allegations, Odio finally adjusts his story. The plaque that hangs on his wall, the one photocopied into his personnel file, was actually given to him as a present by former city employees who worked with Antonio Jorge. "I got that diploma after they got me the affidavit [in late 1988]," he confides. "I studied there until 1959, so I had all my classes finished by 1958. It was given to me as a gift."

Unfortunately, Odio's admission only clouds matters regarding Villanueva. He now says the diploma is in fact a fake, though it wasn't produced to bolster his resume. He also says he studied at Villanueva until 1958. But Burns's letter states that Odio continued to study until 1960. Furthermore, Odio's resume, which states he already had a bachelor's degree from Villanueva, was filed with the city in 1980, eight years before he supposedly learned he'd earned enough credits to be awarded one.

In addition, Odio's claim that the diploma was a gift from city employees who worked with Antonio Jorge is contradicted by Jorge himself. The FIU professor says he had no involvement in obtaining the Villanueva diploma. In Jorge's mind, however, the stories behind the diploma do nothing to compromise its validity. Many Villanueva graduates, he says, have added their names to other people's sheepskins. "This matter was common practice," he says. "It was probably copied from a template. That's what I would think, that people who would lose their diplomas would use a template or a mold. Somebody probably just forgot to change the date."

Lately, Cesar Odio has downplayed his Villanueva education. An updated two-page biography tucked into his personnel file does not mention the Villanueva degree at all; instead it states only that Odio majored in business management (not economics) at the school. Of much greater interest in this more recent accounting of the city manager's life is the degree he earned in 1982 from Florida Memorial College.

In 1986 Florida Memorial, a traditionally black college, was caught by the Miami Herald awarding top grades to students in an off-campus extension at the Hialeah Convalescent Home. The "students" -- most of whom received up to $2500 per year in state and federal financial aid -- were senile or, in the case of two students who had garnered taxpayer assistance, were actually dead. According to the Herald, one star pupil had earned A's in geography, psychology, and mathematics, and held a 3.2 grade point average despite having no idea what the college classes were about. "My brain is too old," she reportedly said.

Florida Memorial's vice president for academic affairs claimed he didn't know a thing about the Hialeah "students" until informed by a newspaper reporter. Auditors swooped down on the college and forced it to repay the federal government nearly $300,000. No criminal charges were filed.

This is the school at which Cesar Odio thrived.
In his first semester, carrying a very heavy load of eighteen credits, he continued to work full-time for the city during a period when most Miami bureaucrats were overwhelmed day and night by the fallout from both the Mariel boatlift and the bloody McDuffie riots. Odio in particular was stretched to the limit: He was the person in charge of managing the boatlift crisis. Still, he nailed four A's and one B, good for a 3.8 grade point average. One semester later, in the spring of 1981, he carried fifteen credits and aced them all -- a perfect 4.0. His cumulative GPA at the time he graduated in April 1982 was a very impressive 3.7 -- magna cum laude.

Of course, at that time pulling down good grades at Florida Memorial College's extension was a breeze. Virtually anybody could do it. In fact, according to official school records and documents copied and saved by a former administrator, students enrolled in the extension program could receive passing grades for classes they never attended.

Standing at the administrative helm of this controversial program was Carmen Marina, a Ph.D. (in education) who broke into academia at Montclair State College in New Jersey. Yes, Sergio Pereira's old school. Marina taught the former city manager in the "B2" program, a precursor to the Bilingual Institute she would eventually run at Miami's Biscayne College. (Biscayne College was founded in Miami in 1961 by former administrators from Santo Tomas de Villanueva, one year after Castro forced the Cuban school to close. In 1984 Biscayne College added a law school and changed its name to St. Thomas University.)

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