Revoltin' Development

One year after taking over as president of Glendale Community College, Tessa Martinez Pollack is under fire from faculty senate members who question a proposed policy that cost her her previous job in Miami, Florida.

Her economic-development proposal for the west Valley has also raised questions about what role her husband may play in it.

The Maricopa Community College District board, which oversees 10 community colleges across the county, picked the 48-year-old Martinez Pollack in September 1996 to replace outgoing college president John Waltrip, who was retiring after 20 years.

Martinez Pollack, one of about 100 applicants to apply for the $116,000-a-year job, walked into an institution which had experienced little administrative upheaval during the two decades preceding her arrival--a campus where faculty had grown accustomed to having its say in college policy.

Waltrip, during his two decades as president, had endeared himself to teachers by taking stands against the district on their behalf, resisting changes which, he felt, undermined the college's traditional mission of classroom education.

But Martinez Pollack and Waltrip come from opposite ends of the educational spectrum. Waltrip's heart was in the classroom and, before becoming GCC's president, he had been both a teacher and a faculty activist.

Aside from brief stints in the classroom, Martinez Pollack never has taught, serving as an administrator her whole career. If there was any doubt at GCC where the new president's allegiances lay, she put them to rest shortly after arriving on the campus.

First, Martinez Pollack slighted faculty members by ignoring their input about who should speak at a commencement ceremony. Then she began telling the faculty that GCC was out of step with the community's needs.

Martinez Pollack unveiled an ambitious social agenda, announcing that the college would team up with various agencies, including the city, to help rehabilitate an economically depressed section of Glendale.

Dubbed "The Rectangle Project," the program would seek to provide financial assistance to low-income first-time homebuyers, and establish a community center providing a host of social services.

GCC faculty association president Carl Samuels was the first to formally question Martinez Pollack about the project, and about her past.

Martinez Pollack came to the Valley from the Miami-Dade community-college system, where she served as president of the five-college system's medical center, which offers instruction in health-related fields.

While at Miami-Dade, Martinez Pollack became one of the prime movers behind a high-profile campaign to force the college to help rehabilitate a hard-pressed area of Miami called Overtown.

The Overtown Project, as it came to be known, was launched around 1993 amid strong civic support. But by 1996, after a series of political upheavals in Miami, leaders began to take a second look at Overtown.

Critics had begun to say that the college--and the community--had precious little to show for the effort. Martinez Pollack eventually was forced out, but not until after Miami-Dade had sunk more than $600,000 into Overtown.

At the time of Martinez Pollack's ouster, Miami-Dade was operating on an $11 million budget deficit. While faculty there say Martinez Pollack can't be faulted for the deficit--she only headed one of the five campuses in the entire system--they do blame her for trying to foist her civic agenda upon them.

"We saw her role, indeed the role of any president or administrator, as this: Make it possible for us to go into the classroom and do the best jobs possible," says Miami-Dade faculty senate representative Pamela Singer. "I don't think she viewed it like that. I think she wanted us to follow her lead unquestionably, to go out into the community, to act as social workers. And I don't deny that there's a need for that kind of thing, but the fact is, this is a school, and we are teachers--not social workers. This is where our responsibility lies."

According to minutes from an April faculty meeting, Samuels' first question for Martinez Pollack was, "Were either you or your husband involved in building the public housing [in Overtown]?"

"No," Martinez Pollack replied, according to the minutes.
In an interview last week, Robert Pollack said he had helped develop "about 40" low-income homes in Overtown. He added that he helped develop "about 3,000" units of affordable housing in Dade County for about 20 different nonprofit organizations before he moved to Arizona with his wife--a much different picture from the one Martinez Pollack presented at the faculty senate meeting in April.

Robert Pollack now works as a public-housing consultant with the City of Tucson. The position is funded through a two-year grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the meeting in April, Samuels also asked Martinez Pollack whether she or her husband would benefit financially from the project she proposed in Glendale.

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Howard Stansfield