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Thursday, 30 January 2014 01:38

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The decision to deny tenure to a popular Los Angeles Mission College (LAMC) drama professor has received a backlash of criticism from students and the community- at- large who are calling the decision unfair and unjustified, while the college administration contend the professor simply did not meet the qualifications to extend his work at the school. “I am not clear about the motivation,” said theater professor Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, who’s been at LAMC for the past four years.

Aviles-Rodriguez is the first full time professor to teach theatre at the Northeast valley community college. Aviles Rodriguez who said he was focused on the students and not the politics of the school may have run afoul of school protocol by teaching 'out of the box.

' “I don’t think it’s justified. It’s unfounded. I’m really confused as everybody else is, as to how they could deny tenure to a teacher who has only served the students during all my time at Mission College?: Aviles-Rodriguez said. Dr. Monte Perez, LAMC president, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the decision to deny Aviles-Rodriguez tenure was based on a peer review of his performance during his four years at the school. “Bottom line, he did not meet all the criteria for tenure. There wasn’t anything illegal or wrong,” said Perez, who added the tenure committee evaluates an instructor’s knowledge of the area he teaches, his effectiveness in the classroom, his committee and department work, and his ability to adhere to school policies and procedures.

“It is a faculty-driven process. He’s had four years, it is not a one-year deal, to improve during those four years and he did not improve,” Perez said. However, Aviles-Rodriguez and his students say the decision to deny his tenure may have to do with his plays—all of them bilingual—in particular the one he last organized along with the San Fernando Valley Historical Society at Pioneer Park for Dia de los Muertos last November.

The play, called “Almas,” featured characters representing people buried at the Sylmar cemetery. There were people who only spoke Spanish, and a Hollywood starlet from the 1920s who talked openly about “petting parties” that involved alcohol, smoking and casual sex. There was another character who died from syphilis after her experiences along Sepulveda Boulevard. Aviles-Rodriguez said people in his department have taken issue with characters speaking plainly about sex.

“My (department) chair and the president have called my shows pornographic,” Aviles- Rodriguez said. Sukhraj Chana, one of the students who took part in the play, also spoke about this criticism. “The school was not very happy with the ‘Almas’ show. They put a lot of roadblocks to it and only Deborah Paulsen (chair of the LAMC Arts, Media and Humanities Department) came to see it and she had very horrible reviews.

Everything that she wanted to rant about she did,” Chana said. “I guess she didn’t understand the message of the show, that you had to take care of greater things in life because life is very short.” The San Fernando Historical Society first approached Aviles Rodriguez to create a fundraising production in the community two years ago and while Aviles-Rodriguez didn't get high fives from school administrators, it was considered a large success in the community. One member of the historical society said she believed that Aviles- Rodriguez stepped on some sensitive academic egos by not getting their annointing before broadening his work into the larger community. Both productions appeared to meet the goals to give the students acting experience on a larger scale and partnered with the San Fernando Historical Society and Tia Chucha's Cultural Center.

Perez, however denied that the tenure decision was based on that play. “No, it’s not because of the play. We recognized it was very popular and well received,” he said. Calls made to Paulsen seeking comment were not returned. Aviles-Rodriguez indicated that Perez had brought Paulsen to Mission College and had a long time professional relationship with the Department head. Samantha Jo Jaffray, another student, also took issue with his tenure denial and thanked the professor for helping her as she returned to school last year. “I really feel that that production (in the Almas show) and the continued support of the entire cast and crew, and especially Prof.

Aviles-Rodriguez anchored me to LAMC, and made me feel at home, Jaffray said. “There were days where I was having a hard time with an assignment, days where I wanted to give up and would tell myself, ‘You can't give up, the production needs you, so you might as well go to class, and try.’ I was overwhelmed with happiness to have been a part of such a wonderful thing. To see Prof. Aviles- Rodriguez organize so many students, community members, associations and also, bring together LAMC's Drama and Culinary Arts clubs, it was simply magic. “Prof. Aviles-Rodriguez is not only an amazing teacher, but a very important community member for LAMC and the San Fernando Valley, one that I do not think we can afford to lose,” she said. Jaffray and Chana expressed concern that theater will cease to exist at LAMC with the departure of Aviles-Rodriguez.

They are planning to protest the decision at the next Academic Senate, and will also hold a protest during Welcome Week at the school in mid-February where they will have petitions for students to sign in support of the professor.

Even the Sylmar Neighborhood Council is concerned about the LAMC decision. They have scheduled a discussion in their next meeting, and possibly vote to write a letter of protest. Perez said he and the college is committed to keeping theater and growing it. Jacky Walker of the San Fernando Historical Society said that Mission College has plans to build a theatre department but doesn't have a department and with the deniall of tenure to Aviles-Rodriguez won't have a professor. "It just doesn't make sense," she said.

She and others have noted that there have been very few resources available for the professor and questions whether the college has real plans to develop a department. “We are going to continue to look for a professor. There are various Hollywood type actors who are willing to participate in the drama department,” he said. Aviles-Rodriguez, whose position at LAMC ends June 30, said he hasn’t decided yet what his next move will be. But, he emphasized, “I don’t agree with this decision.”

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Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 16:38