Fear and Loathing in la Escuela

President Eduardo Padron has instituted an impressive program of intimidation at Miami-Dade Community College

He doesn't believe Padron himself ordered the retribution. He didn't have to. "Padron," explains a former North Campus counselor, "surrounds himself with more and more people whose jobs are directly dependent on him." And they do the dirty work. "Before," recalls a 30-year MDCC professor, "you may not have liked your campus president but you knew they were intelligent and hard-working. The new view is that people are appointed to toe the line. You can't be too bright. That is seen by Padron as a threat."

The result is that Padron remains, literally and figuratively, above it all. "Whenever I approached Dr. Padron," says one former MDCC administrator, "the sense I got was, It's a big deal you are speaking with me.' It was like getting an audience with the Queen of England." While MDCC's image in academic circles has been tarnished by its internal troubles, Padron's status in the local community remains a carefully cultivated commodity. Indeed, some would say public relations is the dapper Padron's strongest suit. "The thing Padron is most adept at is working with civic leaders and local legislators," concedes Mark Richard, a lawyer, faculty member, and faculty union president. "I know people in the community who think Eduardo walks on water," adds Ana Ciereszko. "From him they get cards and flowers for their birthdays, for promotions."

Some say current MDCC president Eduardo Padron is a master of manipulation
Steve Satterwhite
Some say current MDCC president Eduardo Padron is a master of manipulation
Some say current MDCC president Eduardo Padron is a master of manipulation
Steve Satterwhite
Some say current MDCC president Eduardo Padron is a master of manipulation

Padron is nothing if not socially and politically connected. Parties at his home often draw Miami's heaviest hitters and, often, the local press. This past April the MDCC district president's annual spring fling was featured in the Sunday society pages of El Nuevo Herald. The congratulatory spread bore witness to the impressiveness of Padron's personal address book. Featured on the cover of the pullout section was a full-page photo of Padron with former ambassador to Belgium Paul Cejas. Inside, prominent businessman Leslie Pantin; then-Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin; Miami mayoral hopefuls José Garcia-Pedrosa, Maurice Ferré, and Manny Diaz; and Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas all were pictured having a good time. "I am the happiest man in the world," exclaimed Padron in the accompanying article.

(Padron's happiness -- and his influence within Miami-Dade County -- were undoubtedly multiplied many times over by Manny Diaz's triumph in the Miami mayoral race this past November. No one was more prominent in the postelection orgy of supporters, well-wishers, and hangers-on than Padron, who, at the victory celebration, stood at the podium alongside Diaz and outgoing Mayor Joe Carollo. Four days later he actually held the Bible for Diaz as he was sworn into office.)

Padron's parties, famous for their lavishness and frequency, have been the source in recent years of controversy at MDCC, at least behind closed doors. In December 2000 MDCC foundation board member Juan Galan resigned from the organization after a decade of service, accusing Padron of having engineered, earlier in the year, the removal of foundation president Sandy Gonzalez-Levy in retaliation for restrictions she had placed on Padron's use of foundation funds. Padron wanted the money, according to Galan, to pay for private get-togethers in his home, parties the college president refers to as institutional "friend-raisings." The confrontation resulted not only in Gonzalez-Levy's ouster but in changes to foundation bylaws that potentially make it easier for Padron to use foundation money with little institutional oversight, a situation that, for Galan and others, poses serious ethical and legal questions (see "Power Play," January 4, 2001).

Just four months after Galan's resignation, MDCC foundation chief financial officer Eduardo Cadenas and four other upper-level foundation staff members were dismissed from their jobs. Cadenas believes his fatal sin, aside from questioning the efficacy of the foundation's fundraising strategies, was to temporarily hold up Padron's request for foundation money for a college party at the Miami Seaquarium in December 2000. Cadenas believes he acted responsibly -- the president's two discretionary accounts were already overdrawn -- but he doesn't doubt that exercising his professional responsibility probably cost him his job (see "We Appreciate Your Concern, and Now You're Fired," April 26, 2001).

Surprisingly these incidents, potentially crossing the line from mismanagement to malfeasance, have produced little private or public outcry. Or, given Padron's gift for networking, maybe not so surprising at all. Certainly his influence over the college's board of trustees -- the one body empowered to oversee the president's performance -- appears almost complete. "It seems the trustees, instead of being appointed by the governor, were appointed by Padron," marvels Larry Wilson, a Kendall Campus biology professor and faculty-union vice president.

The six members of the board have little to no experience in the field of higher education. Instead they are a local who's who of politically savvy lawyers, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders: Coral Gables attorney Armando J. Bucelo, Jr.; former Pan American Hospital CEO Carolina Calderin; Diario de Las Americas editor Helen Aguirre Ferre; real estate businessman Hank Klein; former United States Attorney Roberto Martinez; and business executive Denise Mincey-Mills. (Urban League of Greater Miami CEO T. Willard Fair until recently also was a member of the board.) All serve on a volunteer basis. All are political appointments made by the governor. It's not exactly a recipe for activism. "I think the current board is just waiting for the minutes [on their respective appointments] to tick away," speculates Ciereszko. (Chairman of the Board of Trustees Roberto Martinez also failed to respond to New Times's repeated requests for comment.)

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