Schoolyard Bully

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

Davis and his colleagues on the ad hoc commission have come up with a plan for shared governance they hope will be superior to the senates in dealing with academic issues. (It's not quite finished yet, so he won't elaborate on its structure.) He still worries about the union, though, noting that MDCC professors had amassed some fairly sweet benefits under the old system, such as being able to bank their overtime and spend it as weeks, months, or years of paid time off.

"I would hate to see us lose any part of our fringe benefits in union negotiations. This is stuff that we thought was put to bed forever. What we've heard is, everything is negotiable. If everything remains the same, and it's just a question of ironing out new salary increases for people, then that's not too bad of a deal. But Dr. Padron already gave us five percent the last two years. Is the union going to get us seven percent? Is the union going to get us ten percent?"

Unionization, Davis concludes, was a needless overreaction to Padron's leadership style, which deserves praise more than anything. The positive effect of Padron's leadership on the student body is easy to see, Davis says. The addition of numerous student computer labs and the upgraded networks for students, faculty, and staff, have made MDCC "the second-most-wired campus in the country."

Far from comparing his boss to any nefarious totalitarians, Davis sees a more patriotic precursor for Padron's leadership style. "I compare him to Harry Truman: The buck stops here. Firing MacArthur? Dropping two atomic bombs on Japan? Those were tough decisions, but Truman knew they needed to be made. Frankly, I believe that Dr. Padron has saved this institution."

Padron's boss, the board of trustees, has backed his abolishment of the senates and his forming of the ad hoc commission. Most of the trustees contacted for this story, however, declined comment, not wanting to risk an unfair-labor-practices charge from the union.

In fact, only chairman Martin Fine, an attorney with the firm of Holland & Knight, would comment. When asked if Padron might have stopped short of eliminating the faculty senates, as Richard suggested, Fine sniffs, "One thing we're not going to do is take administrative direction from Mark Richard.

"In my opinion, we have a superb chief administrator, and he saw fit to do it this way," Fine continues. "There could be some trustees who don't feel as strongly as I do. But you either have to support him with a great deal of conviction and good feeling, or I think you're headed for disaster."

Eduardo Padron sits under the gaze of a large neo-Cubist charcoal drawing of a horse and rider. He wears a starched collar and cufflinks that look like small gold coins. His graying hair and mustache are trimmed close, his brown eyes gaze placidly through his round wire-rims. He crosses his legs and leans back in the gray faux-leather chair ("The same chair as when I got here. I haven't changed it," he notes) in his spacious but Spartan office on the fourth floor of the Wolfson Campus main building.

The president is composed, even at ease. The small plastic button pinned over his heart reads Students First! He coolly insists that he's not a union-buster at heart, and recalls the lesson he learned from his father, who unionized some of Cuba's biggest sugar mills before the revolution: "In order for the union to exist, there must be an enemy," he states. "If there is no enemy, there is no need for the union." The union campaign succeeded in part, he observes, because it was able to cast him as such an enemy.

Nonetheless, Padron insists, he never ignored faculty input through the senates: "I didn't agree with every recommendation. I have to say that. Because otherwise, you don't need a president. But I agreed, I would say, with more than 90 percent of the recommendations."

Because he didn't do exactly what the senates recommended every time, pro-union faculty were able to use his reforms as fodder for their campaign. "The fear has been there, and a lot of the propaganda that came from [union] headquarters was on the issue of [staff] layoffs, and the potential that 'this could happen to you,'" he explains.

Although the union won resoundingly, Padron refuses to accept the idea that he has alienated most of the faculty. He blames the current strife on organizers such as Mark Richard, Jim Jackson, and Pam Singer. These hard-core unionists, who consciously "infiltrated" the faculty senates after the last failed drive in 1993, are the ones who have used scare tactics to vilify him.

Padron maintains an even, almost avuncular air while speaking. He doesn't fidget or shift in his chair. To emphasize a point, he merely wags a blunt index finger. But his rhetoric -- complaining about union "infiltration" and "propaganda" -- is just as charged as that of the faculty leaders. And he is just as convinced of his righteousness. His tone is, if not angry, at the very least accusatory.

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