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.

Pomar hasn't given much thought to Florida Memorial recently, but when contacted by New Times several weeks ago, he set about gathering up and reviewing the reams of documents he had compiled and saved from the early Eighties. An intense and jovial man who holds a B.A. in psychology from FIU and a master's from St. Thomas, Pomar methodically began collecting and photocopying school records and other data while working as an associate professor at the extension. His motivation: suspicion that the program was not being properly run.

He had been teaching at the Hispanic extension since its 1977 founding, but in the 1981-82 school year he assumed an added role, that of academic counselor responsible for scheduling the classes of 80 percent of the extension's 380 students. As he was reviewing the transcripts of one of his charges he noticed that she had received a C in Psychology 200. According to her transcripts, the class had been taught at the south campus on Thursday evenings. "I thought that was really funny," Pomar recalls, "because I knew she had earned a B in Psychology 200. And that her class met on the main campus on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m. And I knew that she had shown up for the main-campus class every day, and had taken the main-campus final exam. I knew because I taught the class."

Perplexed, Pomar pulled out some old records. He saw that prior to the spring 1982 semester, the student had registered for three weeknight classes on the south campus that the student was unable to attend. The student, in consultation with Pomar, decided to drop the three classes and add three others taught at the main campus on weekends.

Pomar surmised that for some reason the student's name had not been removed from the rolls of the three classes she had dropped. A clerical error might explain that. But how to account for the fact that she went on to earn two C's and receive one incomplete for classes she never attended and work she never performed? Intriguingly, one of those grades, a C in "Man in Society II," had been awarded by Rafael Cabezas.

In an effort to find an answer, Pomar began examining more records: student transcripts, various attendance and grade books, records of class schedules, and more. His inquiry turned to near obsession as he began documenting what he came to believe was widespread and systematic abuse.

He found that some extension instructors appeared to be teaching more classes than Florida Memorial regulations permitted. Other evidence suggested that students were receiving grades in classes they had never signed up for in the first place. A few students were even credited for classes that didn't seem to exist at all. Cesar Odio was among those.

A New Times analysis of the documents collected by Pomar shows that on two occasions, Odio's transcripts reflected credit given for classes the school had no record of offering. According to the college's official records, "Management of Urban Government" was not offered during the fall semester of 1980, when the newly enrolled Odio supposedly earned an A in the class. And in the next year's Summer Session I, "Racial and Cultural Minorities" was not offered. Nonetheless, Odio's transcripts state that he received a B in that class.

Odio concedes he cannot recall specific details from fifteen years ago, but says, "All I know is that I did go to class. I did my exams. I did all my homework and the homework was turned in and so on."

Karl Wright, Florida Memorial's current vice president of academic affairs, attributes the absence of course records to simple oversights of record keeping. "That doesn't mean that they [Odio's classes] weren't offered," Wright explains. "Most of the classes that we do not have records for are summer classes. That doesn't mean the classes weren't offered. It just means that it was a special arrangement. That happens all the time."

For Pomar at the time, however, the discrepancies pointed not to something innocent but rather to something sinister: greed. All Hispanic extension instructors were paid by the class (usually between $500 and $600 per course), and classes required a minimum number of students. If enrollment fell below that minimum, the class would be canceled and the instructor would lose the income.

Pomar understood the incentive -- the very real pressure in some instances -- for the teaching and administrative staffs to fudge the enrollment and attendance numbers now and then. He could also see why an extension instructor might want to find some way around the college's restriction on the number of classes per semester that could be taught (a restriction aimed at maintaining instructors' status as part-time workers). In addition, keeping students in school, preferably with a full complement of classes, ensured a steady flow of tuition dollars, especially from state and federal programs designed to assist low-income and minority students.

Compelling rationales aside, Pomar says he felt duty-bound to document the irregularities and report them to his academic superiors. (On his office wall, Pomar keeps a sign that reads, "Evil will triumph if good men do nothing.") He collected his findings in a 30-page packet, which he presented on June 7, 1982, to the college's dean of academic affairs, the president, and other top administrators. "None of them wanted to receive this information," he recalls. "I tried to deliver it by hand for days because nobody wanted to see it. Finally, I had to send [the packets] by certified mail to make sure they got delivered. They didn't want to know anything bad about [the administration of the Hispanic extension] because it was bringing the college $200,000 a semester. President [Willie] Robinson didn't want a scandal. He wanted the money."

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