By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
If the MDCC board of trustees has expressed little interest in reviewing Padron's record, the local media have shown even less inclination for covering controversy at one of the nation's largest community colleges. Mention of MDCC in the Herald is largely limited to positive pieces and the long-running image ads, which appear daily. The cost to the college of each ad, according to Padron's office, is just under $5300.
This business relationship between the college and the Herald became a closed-door issue in fall 2000, when Juan Galan, before his resignation from the MDCC foundation, pushed for the organization to adopt a conflict-of-interest disclosure policy. At the time the foundation board's chairman was Herald chief counsel Robert Beatty. To Galan, Beatty's dual role compromised the integrity of both the foundation and the Herald, leaving open the reasonable inference that the nonprofit organization, in the tumultuous period following Gonzalez-Levy's removal, could be purchasing, with its advertising dollars and through its connection to Beatty, the newspaper's silence. The debate itself became, if not moot, somewhat muted after Galan resigned from the foundation and Beatty stepped down as chairman.
Galan's concerns aside, the real significance of MDCC's image-ad campaign may not be the money it directs to the Herald but the work it performs on behalf of Padron, neutralizing criticism of his administration by perpetuating the notion that the troubled college remains Miami-Dade's little red schoolhouse, the clean, well-lighted place where every local success story begins. Never mind that the "alumni" featured, according to MDCC, need not have graduated from the college, only at one time or another attended the school. Given MDCC's long local monopoly on public first- and second-year college courses and its historically high enrollment numbers, that definition expands the field of possible featured subjects to hundreds of thousands of people. And the running joke among MDCC "alumni" is that, sooner or later, everyone in town will get their picture in the paper. Which, the way Mark Richard sees it, may be the point. "Are people featured in the ads going to start raising questions about what goes on at MDCC?" asks the union president, in a tone that presupposes the answer.
As MDCC enters its fifth decade, there is much speculation regarding the school's future. Last year Padron led a failed attempt in the legislature that would have made Florida's community colleges the primary providers of vocational and technical education statewide. Some believe he is now reversing course, and is interested in developing a limited number of four-year baccalaureate programs at MDCC, essentially bringing the school closer to becoming a full-fledged university. If so, the administration's impending contract negotiation with the faculty union, and faculty-administration relations in general, will take on even greater significance.
On a Tuesday evening in late October, MDCC administrators and faculty members sit in the dark. They are at the college's annual dinner honoring recipients of endowed teaching chairs, and Eduardo Padron is speaking to them from three large projection screens strategically located around the Wolfson Campus conference room. It is a taped introduction to the event. Padron appears pleased, sitting at the center table, staring up at his own image.
The video portion of the program will eventually feature a brief acceptance speech by each of the sixteen honorees, played over images of the faculty member teaching a class. The recipients are grouped by campus affiliation, and at the conclusion of each campus's video segment, they are invited, one by one, to come to the stage to accept their award. Only emcee José Bahamonde, an MDCC English professor whose cadence and intonation most closely resemble that of a Fifties game-show announcer, is allowed to speak from the floor. At the conclusion of the presentations, Padron rises from his chair to congratulate the honorees and thank the audience for attending. The evening -- from presubmitted guest lists approved by the administration to the canned video presentation -- is a tightly controlled, stultifying, orchestrated affair. Exactly what faculty and administrators have come to expect from the college president.
When a guest at his table wonders why the event organizers opted for taped remarks when all the recipients are present in the room, one former professor smiles and replies, "You don't think Padron would take a chance on someone saying something he might not agree with, do you?"
It was a former dean not at the dinner, however, who might have best summed up the true significance behind the rather incongruous image of the college president watching himself on the big screen, saying, "Eduardo Padron just wants MDCC to reflect Eduardo Padron."