Schoolyard Bully

Metro-Dade Community College president Eduardo Padron has won a reputation as a take-charge leader -- and an intellectual thug

The student government chamber at FIU is a steeply descending lecture hall with a half-dozen tiers of tables and swivel chairs looking down into a pit with another table and a podium. As the room reached about a third full, the host of the first meeting of the Miami-Dade Community College Faculty Senates-in-Exile stepped up to the lectern. There was no microphone, but the room wasn't that big. Betty Morrow, the president of FIU's faculty union local, spoke loud and clear.

"For many years we'd hoped that Miami-Dade would unionize," she declared (FIU's faculty union is a chapter of the National Education Association, a national union larger than the AFT). "Then we had a certain administrator who just played right into our hands." Raucous laughter and applause rose from the crowd, which included about ten members of both FIU's union and its faculty senate, and a representative from Broward Community College's faculty senate. Morrow went on to read a proclamation from her union chapter stating that "the actions of Miami-Dade Community College President Eduardo Padron are violative of all notions of academic freedom and fair play," and urged the MDCC Board of Trustees to reinstate the faculty senates.

She then gave way to her counterpart from MDCC, Mark Richard. "We have in this room 50 scholars who believe in academic freedom enough to say that Eduardo Padron is not going to destroy academic freedom in South Florida," said the thickset, mustachioed lawyer/professor. "We're not going to let it happen." He waited for a wave of applause to subside. "Eduardo Padron is an academic bully," Richard stated. "Eduardo Padron locked the doors at America's premier open-door institution. And he did it with such administrative arrogance that it offended the sensibilities of the entire academic community -- locally, statewide, and nationally."

Richard then announced what the union is doing about Padron's dissolving of the senates. First, the union has filed a complaint with PERC. Second, he and Jackson have been in touch with the prestigious American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about imposing sanctions on the college.

Some two weeks after this meeting, Robert Kreiser, associate secretary of the AAUP, did send a letter to Padron and board of trustees chairman Martin Fine. The letter stated that the abolition of the entire senate structure without consulting the senators themselves was "inimical to sound principles of academic government."

Kreiser allowed that the AAUP's findings are based solely on input from faculty, but he urged Padron to respond. As of press time, he had not.

Bruce Davis, a health and wellness professor and gymnastics coach at the North Campus, was not at the Senates-in-Exile meeting. Although he was the faculty senate president for his campus at the time of suspension, he is a strong supporter of Padron and an opponent of the union.

He's also a member of the body the union side has called, variously, the "Vichy Committee," the "Junta," and the "Eduardo Padron Palace Brigade." Padron appointed this seventeen-member ad hoc Faculty Commission after he dissolved the senates. Its members include several former faculty senate presidents. (Though all of them are professors, more than half are considered management and did not participate in the union vote.) The commission's charge: Create a plan for a new body that provides faculty a chance to offer input but that does not conflict with the presence of the union.

Davis, a trim, bearded fellow in jeans and a red polo shirt bearing a "USA Gymnastics" logo, sits at a small desk among the Nautilus machines of the North Campus weight room and extols the fiscal virtues of disbanding the faculty senates. "When Dr. Padrón did that, he saved $700,000 a year," Davis says, pointing out that all senate officers had been released from some of their teaching duties, and that support staff and equipment had been allocated to the senates and the consortium.

He stresses that the senates weren't really doing a good job of representing the faculty on any issues, whether on the academic or negotiation side. "Over the years, I didn't really feel that our consortium meetings were well planned," he admits. "There was a lot of flying off the handle. A lot of times the resolutions that were sent to Dr. Padron were emotional. The truth of the matter is that the senates were a good place for a lot of people to shoot their mouths off, and not do their homework, and not follow up with it."

Davis cites a recent instance in which senators requested more time away from classes, and another in which they requested the right to vote on the board of trustees equal to that of the board members, as typical of the kind of frivolous or fruitless resolutions the senates would generate.

The faculty's overriding dissatisfaction with Padron is founded more on institutional inertia and fear of change than anything else, Davis avers. The senates continually criticized Padron's predecessor McCabe, Davis notes, for hiring additional administrators when more and more classes were being taught by part-time faculty. "The faculty were the ones who insisted that he downsize. Then [Padron] downsized, and they got angry that he downsized," Davis says. "They weren't used to a person that would tell you what he was going to do, and then do it. And he'd do it fast."

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