By Chuck Strouse
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Codified under the board of trustees policy numbered I-80, this unique arrangement had helped thwart four previous attempts at faculty unionization. Anti-union forces (including the administrations of Robert McCabe and Peter Masiko) successfully argued that a union at MDCC was unnecessary, given the faculty senates' expanded role. But this role was predicated on the assumption that MDCC's president would heed the senates' recommendations. It is here that Padron ran afoul of the faculty.
In late 1996 he reshuffled the system's campus presidents, moving some between campuses and others into district-level positions. He filled vacancies by appointing interim presidents. They were administrators, and he was technically not required to consult with faculty leadership before making such a change. But the senates had always participated, in an advisory way, with all similar staff decisions. Ginger Parker, an accounting professor at the Kendall Campus and former faculty senate president there, recalls that Padron called senate leaders into his office at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday to tell them the transfers had already been made.
"The senate presidents work very closely with the campus presidents," Parker says. "It was a blow to people. Bill Stokes had been campus president at Kendall for fifteen or sixteen years and was very well respected. I asked Dr. Padron at the meeting, 'Why are you moving Dr. Stokes?' He said, 'Because I need him at North.' That was his only response." (Eventually Stokes was moved from the North Campus into a district position; he has since left Miami-Dade to work in the private sector.) Padron also ignored the senates' recommendation that he establish a separate screening committee to help select each campus president. Instead, he instituted what some faculty called a "generic" screening committee: one body to screen all applicants for any presidency.
Last September, when he applied this method to the position of academic dean -- the chief administrator for curriculum issues -- at each campus, many faculty moved from unease to alarm. "I get this call from Padron at like 11:00 p.m. that he's appointing five interim academic deans with no input from the faculty," recalls Pam Singer, a nursing professor at the Medical Center Campus and former senate consortium president. "The faculty were livid, but his attitude was, 'They're interim, I don't need input.' I was like, 'What?'"
Singer's reaction reflected the frustration felt by many of her colleagues: "I'm not going to have someone on my campus that I haven't established a working relationship with. That's just not good educational policy. Now you're cutting into how good a job I can do in the classroom. When he starts cutting into that -- the academic side, setting curriculum -- that's when faculty get upset. I said, 'That's it!' This person is just a totalitarian person, and I'm not going to work in a totalitarian system."
Many faculty saw Padron's disregard of senate recommendations as a harbinger of how he might deal with labor issues. Would he simply read their requests, then proceed to ignore them?
The faculty also has more fundamental concerns about Padron's educational philosophy. Some question Padron's commitment to liberal arts as opposed to vocational training. Mark Richard, a labor lawyer who teaches in the paralegal program at Wolfson Campus, is afraid that Padron, an economist, is too wedded to the needs of Miami's biggest employers. He complains that the president has shown signs that he wants to turn the college into a vocational school to churn out American Airlines and Burger King employees.
Others wonder where Padron stands in the war on tenure being waged at college campuses across the nation. In 1996 and 1997 Padron declined to give continuing contracts (MDCC's version of tenure) to a total of 68 professors who had finished the required three years of service. Padron cited potential funding problems at both the state and federal levels those years. A few weeks ago Padron did grant continuing contracts to all eligible professors. But Padron has mentioned that tenure itself may soon become a thing of the past, and not just at MDCC. "The public out there has no sympathy for academia guaranteeing jobs for life," Padron says. "I think tenure is not going to be there for long."
The growing trepidation over Padron's management style did not go unnoticed by Mark Richard, Pam Singer, or Jim Jackson, a social sciences professor at Kendall who served as president of the senate consortium. All three had been leaders of previous, unsuccessful union drives. They now saw an opportunity to revive the unionization question. This past October, they and a handful of others met around Singer's kitchen table to discuss another campaign to form a local chapter of the national union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The next meeting filled Singer's living room, and included some people who had previously been anti-union, such as Parker.
By unionizing, the organizers posited, the faculty at MDCC would gain a lobbying voice in the state legislature through the national union. They pointed out that MDCC was an anomaly in South Florida; the faculty at Florida International University, Broward Community College, and Palm Beach Community College have all been unionized for at least a decade. But the real catalyst for this new effort was Padron. Union supporters knew they had to tap into the growing discontent over his presidency.